There is something about fairytales. Folk tales? Not the happy-ending Disney-friendly stories. I’m talking about the ones that feel like they start with an italicized “Once upon a time” and a calligraphic drop cap O.
The Witch of Duva has its own kind of once upon a time.
“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.”
That certainly encourages further reading. And at just under 8000 words, Leigh Bardugo’s story is easily manageable in a single sitting. Or should I say, devourable. Digestable? Edible?
Nadya is a teenage girl living in a village named Duva. A harsh winter has coated the land in snow and the townspeople are struggling to survive. On top of that, young girls keep disappearing around the edge of the woods, lured into the forest by the smells of food. Only scraps of their clothing are ever recovered. When Nadya’s mother dies and her brother is conscripted, she is left to live with her carpenter father and new stepmother.
This feels familiar, the characters and the world are initially indistinguishable from a Grimm’s fairytale. The tightly-controlled writing conveys the same kind of warmth undercut by the uncanny, the inexplicable and frightening and unknowable. But this story did not go in the direction I expected. I mean, you can tell from the opening line that it’s dark, but then it goes way dark. Like cave-dark. Deep space-dark. No one will hear you scream-dark.
And yet, kindness runs beneath all of that, in the gentle interactions between some of the characters, in the softly delineated descriptions of interior spaces, in the adorable bear-dog-thing named Vladchek. So fluffy.
The Witch of Duva is simultaneously nostalgic and new. It also acts as an excellent advertisement for Bardugo’s longer works, given that the story takes place in the same universe as her The Grisha series. Like, give me a copy of that, please.
You can read The Witch of Duva over here.