There’s a reason why folktales today remain popular even though the oral storytelling traditions of the past have faded. Folktales have enchanted people for centuries and they help us understand human nature and explain our world.
Russian and Slavic mythology contain a rich vein of folktales with their dark and often tragic stories of Baba Yaga, Father Frost, Vasilisa the Beautiful, Rusalka, and more. Recently, many of these stories are being explored and made into modern day adaptations, which are told from new angles or set during historical, real-world events such as the Bolshevik Revolution or the Soviet Union.
Here are five of my favorite recent Russian or Slavic inspired folktales.
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE
By Katherine Arden
For generations, the noble Vladimirovich family has lived a difficult but peaceful life on the edge of a Russian forest. The family and the local villagers praise God in church on Sunday and leave offerings for the magical household who watch over their homes and stables throughout the week. Young Vasilisa Vladimirova has a peculiar gift, however. She can see and talk with these friendly spirits. When her new, fiercely devout stepmother arrives shortly after a captivating young priest, they demand that the villagers stop their idol worship and abandon their traditional practices. But as a particularly harsh winter sets in and the village nears starvation, Vasya knows she must ignore the wishes of father, stepmother, and priest to embrace her own power and seek the help of creatures from deepest folklore to help in her fight against the growing strength of the Bear.
By Naomi Novik
A mysterious wizard known as the Dragon selects a young woman from a rural village near his tower every 10 years as payment for protecting the region from the malevolent influence of the evil Wood. Agnieszka, always muddy and disheveled, never thinks that she will be chosen, but when she is selected to serve the Dragon, she soon discovers she has a rare and powerful talent for magic. As Agnieszka's magic grows, her journey sends her on a deadly quest where she will experience the terrible intrigue of the royal court, a true and unbreakable friendship, and even a little romance.
THE CROWN’S GAME
By Evelyn Skye
In 1825 Russia, with unrest among the Kazakhs and the Ottoman Empire pressing from the South, the Tsar needs more help than his army and advisors can provide. Though few still believe in magic, Russia still has the ability to call an Imperial Enchanter. The problem is there are currently two enchanters, Vika Andreyevna who has been training her entire life to become Imperial Enchanter and Nikolai Karimov, best friend to the Tsarevich, Pasha, but who does not know of Nikolai’s ability. Because their powers come from the same source, only one can become Imperial Enchanter and wield this incredible power. To decide who will become Imperial Enchanter, the Tsar sets in motion the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill where each enchanter must show his or her inventiveness and strength. The victor will be declared the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. For the loser—instant death.
VASSA IN THE NIGHT
By Sarah Porter
Set in a darkly magical version of a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, Vassa’s mother is dead and father gone. She lives with her uncaring stepmother and two stepsisters. In Vassa's neighborhood, magic is to be avoided and the nights have mysteriously started lengthening. One night after all their lightbulbs burn out, Vassa is sent by her stepsister to buy more. Baba Yaga, known as Babs, owns a local convenience store known for its practice of beheading shoplifting customers. So when Babs accuses Vassa of stealing, Vassa makes a deal to work as an indentured servant for three nights. During her time in the shop, Vassa begins to suspect that Babs’s magic may be connected to the growing imbalance between day and night affecting the city.
SHADOW AND BONE
By Leigh Bardugo
Alina and Mal were orphans, raised together after their parents died in the constant border wars in Ravka. Now they are in the army where Mal is an expert tracker and Alina a mediocre mapmaker. Their once great friendship isn't what it used to be. Their land is surrounded by enemies and divided by the Shadow Fold, a mysterious, magical darkness that seethes with flesh-eating monsters known as volcra. When a perilous mission takes them into the Shadow Fold, Alina manifests a powerful and rare ability to summon light that sets their whole world spinning and catches the attention of the Darkling, the head of the magical Grisha. Although Alina refuses to believe she has any power, she is taken to Os Alta, the capital, to learn to use her special gift. As her distance from Mal grows quite literally, she finds herself pulled into a more complex situation than she ever expected and must find if the light within her is strong enough to combat all the powers of darkness.