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Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Book Review: Thistlefoot by Gennarose Nethercott

by Gennarose Nethercott
September 13, 2022
Publisher: Anchor
ISBN: 9780593468838
The Yaga siblings—Bellatine, a young woodworker, and Isaac, a wayfaring street performer and con artist—have been estranged since childhood, separated both by resentment and by wide miles of American highway. But when they learn that they are to receive a mysterious inheritance, the siblings are reunited—only to discover that their bequest isn’t land or money, but something far stranger: a sentient house on chicken legs.

Thistlefoot, as the house is called, has arrived from the Yagas’ ancestral home in Russia—but not alone. A sinister figure known only as the Longshadow Man has tracked it to American shores, bearing with him violent secrets from the past: fiery memories that have hidden in Isaac and Bellatine’s blood for generations. As the Yaga siblings embark with Thistlefoot on a final cross-country tour of their family’s traveling theater show, the Longshadow Man follows in relentless pursuit, seeding destruction in his wake. Ultimately, time, magic, and legacy must collide—erupting in a powerful conflagration to determine who gets to remember the past and craft a new future.

An enchanted adventure illuminated by Jewish myth and adorned with lyrical prose as tantalizing and sweet as briar berries, Thistlefoot is an immersive modern fantasy saga by a bold new talent.

Isaac Yaga has the ability to become anyone he meets or thinks of. He even calls himself the Chameleon King. He leaves New Orleans and ends up near his sister, Bellatine. He encounters a strange man in a bar, who is searching for something left by their ancestor, Baba Yaga. 

Bellatine has an ability too—she can make the dead or nonliving things come to life. So when she learns what Baba Yaga left them, a house with chicken legs that can run away to other places. Her brother offers her a way to buy out his half of Thistlefoot; although leery, Bellatine does it.

This different take on the Russian witch, Baba Yaga, that adds Jewish legends. The witches are Baba’s great-grandchildren and the house is sentient. All blended into a dark fantasy makes for a wild remade fairytale about how you shouldn’t count your chickens. It will surprise you, all the way to the end.

I gave Thistlefoot 41/2 sheep.

Reviewed by Pamela K. Kinney

About the Author:
GENNAROSE NETHERCOTT is the author of The Lumberjack’s Dove (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2018), selected by Louise Glück as a winner of the National Poetry Series. Her other recent projects include the narrative song collection Modern Ballads, and Lianna Fled the Cranberry Bog: A Story in Cootie Catchers (Ninepin Press 2019). A Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow, her work has appeared in BOMB Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, The American Scholar, PANK, and elsewhere, and she has been a writer-in-residence at the Vermont Studio Center, Art Farm Nebraska, and the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris. Her debut novel THISTLEFOOT is forthcoming from Knopf Anchor.

Nethercott tours nationally and internationally performing from her works (often with a hand-cranked shadow show in tow) and composing poems-to-order for strangers on a 1952 Hermes Rocket typewriter. She is the founder of the Traveling Poetry Emporium, a team of poets-for-hire, and is an Associate Producer at Grim and Mild, where she conducts supernatural and historical research for the podcast Lore. She lives in the woodlands of Vermont, beside an old cemetery.

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