Anya and the Dragon had been sitting in my NetGalley queue for a long time. It is the first novel I have read since August, and it was like getting a nice cold drink of water after being really thirsty on a long hike. I missed reading, and this was a great story to sit down with after a very stressful semester.
Anya and the Dragon was a story about a girl, her goat, a new friend, a dragon, and tough choices. I loved most of it, but there was one little thing that bothered me.
I’ll start by telling you what I loved about this book.
I love novels with Slavic folklore, and this one was filled with it. I loved how the Domovoi’s personality.
Speaking of personality, Zvezda the goat was my favorite. He was adorable. He was brave, stubborn, loyal, and always chewing on something.
I loved how the plot seemed to meander for a little while, letting the readers really get a full taste of the characters and the world before the plot really picked up the pace. Shortly after I reached the half-way mark, the story flew by and I couldn’t put the book down.
The voice, imagery, and the friendships that developed were beautiful.
The story felt very grounded in historical context and how in spite of that context, I didn’t feel completely smothered by some of the social issues and prejudices of that time.
Anya seemed certain she didn’t want to get married, not even when she was older. While adult characters may have seemed a little skeptical when it was mentioned once, no one was telling her she had to get married when she was older. No one was every telling she could or couldn’t do something because she was a girl. I loved that the adults in town didn’t treat her any different than the treat the boy characters her age. Sometimes historical fantasy gets bogged down in alleged period sexism. This story didn’t.
Sexism may not have been an issue in this story, but it didn’t completely ignore other prejudices of the time. The narrative discussed the antisemitism of the time. One of the antagonists was very anti semitic, but then he got what deserved in the end…or maybe a kinder fate than he deserved.
I feel like with historical fiction, addressing some of the prejudices of a time period is necessary, to an extent, and when done right, it can drive home how bad that kind of hate was.
The problem comes when it becomes gratuitous and/or the narrative doesn’t criticize the hate.
Which leads me to the one little tiny problem I had with this book.
There was one scene in Chapter 6 where the narrative hinted that Ivan, the second most prominent human character, isn’t straight, but it came up in the context of his brothers making fun of him for having water-magic, like his mother, and for thinking a boy was cute once.
Nothing about the narrative voice seemed critical of these bothers. There are much kinder ways to hint that a character is possibly gay or bi.
I was excited to learn Ivan once thought a boy was cute. I’m always excited to see LGBTQ+ rep in books, especially middle grade books. I just wish the author could’ve found a better way to work it into the narrative. Using this casual homophobia as a way to say “this character isn’t straight” is not cool.
That is the reason this book has 4 stars and not 5, because honestly, I loved just about everything else about it.