The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs was written by Sophie Anderson and first published in 2018. It is a fantasy story aimed at middle grade readers, focusing on a young girl who longs to escape her restrictive destiny. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Although people believe the Yaga to be witches, it is just because they do not understand the important role that they serve. Baba Yaga, like all of her kind, travels the world in her magical house. Her job is to guard the gateway to the afterlife and help all lost souls to find their way to the other side. It is an important role, however it is one that Marinka has come to loathe.

Marinka is Baba Yaga’s granddaughter and so has spent her entire life in the house, learning the ways of the Yaga in preparation for the day that her grandmother must make her journey through the gate. But this is not the life that Marinka wants. The house is always moving on and her grandmother does not allow her to make friends, as their art must remain secret from the living. The fact that she can’t even leave the house unaccompanied makes her even more claustrophobic.

This is why Marinka chooses to rebel and finally make a friend. She cannot possibly know what terrible consequences this will bring on the house. When Baba Yaga disappears and Marinka finds herself alone, she realises that she must do everything that she can to bring her grandmother home. Yet she can’t possibly succeed without the house’s help, and the house seems oddly unwilling to assist her…

The House with Chicken Legs is a magical adventure which, as you might be able to tell, is strongly rooted in the Slavic tales of Baba Yaga – an enigmatic old woman who dwells in a shack with chicken legs and is portrayed as both a protagonist or antagonist in many legends. However, Anderson’s novel approaches these classic stories in a very unique and original way. In The House with Chicken Legs, Baba Yaga is not a single entity. The Yaga are an ancient clan who secretly serve a very useful function as guides to the dead. As the story is told from the perspective of Baba Yaga’s granddaughter, Marinka, we immediately see this world from the perspective of one who only knows Baba Yaga as a kindly old woman, and is perpetually shocked by the way that others discriminate against her on sight.

Although Marinka is a part of the unseen world, she also serves as an effective everyman for the story. As she has no real interest in taking on Baba Yaga’s role as a guardian, Marinka does not fully understand the rituals that surround the dead herself. Due to this, her lessons are a great way to relay this information to the reader without resorting to exposition. The ghosts in this story are not frightening at all. Indeed, their final hours with Baba Yaga are presented as a beautiful celebration of life before they peacefully pass through the mysterious gateway and re-join the stars.

At its core, The House with Chicken Legs is a deeply emotional tale which forms a spiritual journey for Marinka. It is a story about coping with the hardships of life – finding joy in sorrow, accepting the inevitably of death and learning the hard truth that we sometimes can’t get the things that we want. While the story can cover some dark subject matter, it does so with the utmost respect and is ultimately a very uplifting story that is certain to move the reader. My desire to find out what Marinka’s fate would be was more than enough to keep me turning the pages.

However, I must admit that I did find a few elements of the story to be frustrating. The way that Marinka was forced into such a binding fate against her will annoyed me more than I care to mention. While there is ultimately a very good reason for this (and the plot, thankfully, never truly made Marinka accept her lot), I did initially find myself disliking both Baba Yaga and the house for their blatant disregard for Marinka’s feelings.

While The House with Chicken Legs did seems to stall a little in its second act, it soon built up to a gripping finale as Marinka learns exactly what happens to the dead when they pass over. While this final stage of her journey was very heartfelt, I did find the last couple of chapters to be a little saccharine. They served to give the novel a warm ending, but the use of the house’s ill-defined powers to make everything right felt a little cheap. This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that I am certain that this was something that the house could have done far earlier in the tale!

In terms of character, however, the novel reveals its true strength. Marinka is a wonderfully sympathetic and realistic character and the reader does truly feel a kinship with her on her journey. While Marinka is far from perfect and makes some horrible (and damaging) mistakes, she does learn from her experiences and gradually grows into a better person. Her friendship with the house blossoms throughout the tale and it was wonderful to see the way that this strengthens over the climax.

While no other character receives as much focus, the supporting cast is still vibrant and deeply memorable, from Marinka’s sensitive and artistic friend Benjamin to the kindly “Old Yaga” – an elder who helps Marinka to find herself in the final stages of her quest. It is a shame that this novel is clearly designed to stand alone, as I would like to read more of their adventures together in the future.

So, that about sums it up. The House with Chicken Legs is certainly a novel that I would recommend. It is a beautiful and heart-warming tale, with an original plot and complex protagonist. It is definitely a must-read for all young fantasy fans.

The House with Chicken Legs can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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