This sequel to Anya and the Dragon came out just after last year’s Cybils deadline (meaning it will be eligible to be nominated this year!), so I didn’t get to it in the middle of my reading then. I’m so glad I circled back to it, as it was just delightful. And if you or your loved young ones celebrate Sukkot, you still have time to track this down to have a holiday-appropriate book.
Anya and the Nightingale
by Sofiya Pasternack
Read from library copy.
As the book opens, Anya is struggling to build her family’s booth for Sukkot, with “assistance” from her goat as her father has been sent off to the city with the army. When she hears that her father is actually being sent to the war front, she sets off to the capital to rescue him, with her friend Ivan the fool (now crushing on nearly everyone) and her dragon friend Håkon. After an encounter with the witch Lena, Håkon is in human form – much easier for camouflage, but a big learning curve for Håkon.
But Anya’s straightforward plan of marching straight up to the Tsar to demand her father’s release is thrown completely off when they are attacked by a feral-looking boy before they even get to Kiev, a boy who is able to steal their magic. Their attempts to defend themselves are interrupted by the arrival of a troupe of the czar’s guardsmen, led by the fierce princess Vasilisa. Luckily, they’re saved. Unluckily, they are taken captive, and the only way for Anya to gain an audience with the Tsar is to figure out how to defeat the boy, called the Nightingale. But even that might not be the worst, as they can sense a powerful evil lurking under the city…
Anya has spent her whole life up to this point in a tiny village where hers was the only Jewish family. Here, she meets a cute Jewish boy her own age – and a whole community, all of whom know much more about her own faith and traditions than she does. Everywhere she looks, things that were straightforward in her own village are much more complicated. And through all of it, Anya keeps getting flashbacks to the terrible events of the first book, seeing the horrible villain looming over her or hearing his insults just when she needs to be strong. Ivan’s crushes are both hilarious and genuine, as he grows red and tongue-tied around the objects of his affection, regardless of their gender.
I really liked the first book, but all of these added elements give Anya and the Nightingale that much more depth. That depth, together with a great characters, humor, and a search for non-violent solutions in a world that expects violence are making this one of my very favorite current series.