Book Review: THE WITCH AND THE TSAR by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Title in white on
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for THE WITCH AND THE TSAR: title in gold on deep teal above a house and trees and a below a black bird

As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar, and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This is a lovely historical fantasy set in sixteen century Russia around the reign of Ivan the Terrible.

THE WITCH AND THE TSAR fits into the category of books that take real events and weave magic in (my favourite!) Here we have Russian myths about Baba Yaga and Koshey and Marya Morvena, mythical creatures like the firebird referenced, and a host of pre-Christian gods woven through a tale of a despot king and the terrors he brings.

I loved the way the magical conflict played into the real history, fuelling it and adding another enemy to defeat. It was so much fun to read – the best of both historical and fantasy novels rolled into one.

This is a great book to read in winter as for much of the book, the world is trapped in a magical (but terrible!) winter (or with brief summers.) Given the book extends over twenty years, that’s a very long winter to endure.

Most of the book is told from Yaga’s perspective, but there are interludes that provide the backstory of the gods and what some of the characters on the other side of the conflict are up to. It was a nice way to keep the story still tight to Yaga but while showing the breadth of the immortal, magical world.

THE WITCH AND THE TSAR is a slower pace book leaning towards a more lyrical, measured writing style. There are some gorgeous descriptions in here, evoking the natural world so well. This is a story with nature woven into it, the story rooted in it through Yaga’s magic.


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