Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Really Short Reviews: The Baba Yaga Series by Deborah Blake

Wickedly Dangerous
(Baba Yaga #1)
Deborah Blake
Release: Sept. 2, 2014
Goodreads Amazon
Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.

But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.

Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…
I read the prequel novella Wickedly Magical earlier this year and thought it was just OK. But I really enjoyed Blake's latest release Veiled Magic so I decided to give Baba Yaga another chance.

I still have some issues with this first novel, though not the same ones as with the prequel. The romance plot is not well-developed and is only addressed sporadically. The mystery plot takes too long to wrap up and the villain actually explains the whole evil scheme twice. I also have mixed feelings about Blake's version of the Otherworld, which is fanciful but mostly because all the plants are weird colors. Its politics are interesting though, with a volatile queen and a court full of toadies.

At the same time, I feel like the series has potential. I like the way the Baba Yaga myth is adapted to the 21st century. The house on chicken legs becomes an RV and the flying mortar and pestle a motorcycle. I like the fact that Baba is dealing with environmental issues, in this case fracking, and that those human issues have ramifications for the supernaturals as well. I feel like the current events ground the magical story in the real world. It's a natural choice for the Babas charged with maintaining balance and ties into their elemental powers - Barbara has an affinity for earth magic.

I also like the fact that Barbara is an unconventional romance heroine. She's prickly, anti-social and very matter-of -fact, which is often funny. And I like the supporting characters, her dragon-turned-dog Chudo Yudo, and the Riders who answer the Babas' calls for assistance. So while this one is still just OK for me, I have high hopes for the series to improve.

3  stars


Wickedly Wonderful
(Baba Yaga #2)
Deborah Blake
Release: Dec. 2, 2014
Goodreads Amazon
Though she looks like a typical California surfer girl, Beka Yancy is in fact a powerful yet inexperienced witch who’s struggling with her duties as a Baba Yaga. Luckily she has her faithful dragon-turned-dog for moral support, especially when faced with her biggest job yet…

A mysterious toxin is driving the Selkie and Mer from their homes deep in the trenches of Monterey Bay. To investigate, Beka buys her way onto the boat of Marcus Dermott, a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine, and his ailing fisherman father.

While diving for clues, Beka drives Marcus crazy with her flaky New Age ideas and dazzling blue eyes. She thinks he’s rigid and cranky (and way too attractive). Meanwhile, a charming Selkie prince has plans that include Beka. Only by trusting her powers can Beka save the underwater races, pick the right man, and choose the path she’ll follow for the rest of her life…  

This second book has definitely improved on some of the issues I had with the first one. Wickedly Wonderful more or less follows the same formula, but the romance gets more time on the page so it's more believable. I also have a fondness for those couples that can't decide if they want to kiss or kill each other.

However, one of the things that always bugs me is a heroine who's insecure and easily manipulated and Beka tends to be both of those things. The other issue I had was that too much of the villain's plot is revealed to the reader so there are really no surprises. That makes Beka seem even more naïve when she takes so long to solve the mystery.

But I liked the fact that the environmental issues in this story, toxic waste and illegal dumping, impact both the human and supernatural communities in a compelling way. I think I like Beka's Chudo Yudo, who she calls Chewie, even better than Barbara's. The scene where he transforms into his dragon form is really impressive. And the Riders are entertaining once again, though they have a smaller part in this story.

I feel like this series still has great potential. If it continues to improve, the next book, due out in February, should be really good. I'm certainly looking forward to finding out.

3 1/2 stars

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