Into The Forest: Tales Of The Baba Yaga edited by Lindy Ryan

I love the idea of this anthology that collects works from 26 different women worldwide, all on the theme of the mythical Baba Yaga. It’s a really rich subject open to different, intriguing interpretations. For those of you unfamiliar with the myth, our subject is the old wise woman of Slavic lore, who lives in a house that walks on chicken legs, dispensing terror or justice as the mood strikes. Christina Henry’s excellent foreword points out that Baba Yaga wasn’t necessarily ever just one figure either, but was sometimes three, often sisters, but always otherworldly and beholden only to her or their own rules.

Fitting, then, that she’s the subject of this fiercely feminist grouping of tales. Her ambiguous reputation provides fertile ground for the speculative fiction author. Is she a benefactress or beastly or both? Is she something to be run towards in hope or run away from in horror? I found that my favorite stories of this bunch definitely leaned more towards the former than the latter, but that’s the beauty of this collection, its absolute openness to any variation on the theme.

That is also, perhaps, its greatest weakness. In its eagerness to accept any spin on the tale, the anthology occasionally loses coherence, as the tone whipsaws wildly between moods instead of building gradually to an overarching whole. The ending, for example, felt better left to the quietly poetic Baba Yaga In Repose by Heather Miller. Instead Saba Syed Razvi’s equally poetic but much more metaphorical, almost anthropological, Shadow And Branch, Ghost Fruit Among The Lullabies provides an unnecessary coda that pulls focus from the lady in question to talk about the women she haunts instead. I can understand the argument that those inspired by her are more important in the long run than the witch herself, but I didn’t really come here to read about them, did I? Centering her influence instead of her actions makes this collection feel more like sociology than fiction, more like textbook than entertainment.

So it’s no surprise that I far preferred the stories where Baba Yaga herself was the protagonist, as in my favorite, Herald The Knight by Mercedes M Yardley. Perhaps I’m a sucker for a fairy tale, but this story of Baba Yaga in love just made me happy. I also enjoyed Baba Yaga as avenger in Linz McLeod’s Wormwood, and Baba Yaga as atoning mother in Christina Sng’s Mama Yaga. All Bitterness Burned Away by Jill Baguchinsky is another brilliant subversion of Hansel and Gretel, as Baba Yaga learns with the reader not to make (often anti-feminist) assumptions. Interestingly, these last three all share in common the question of who gets to tell stories in the first place, whose histories are made acceptable to be passed down through the ages, a metaphysical exploration I quite enjoy, especially when told subtly and not with a sledgehammer (see textbook complaint above.)

The stories of Baba Yaga in the modern day, especially as the devil in the woods desperate women run to, were a harder sell for me. Fair Trade by Jacqueline West was probably the best of those for me, followed closely by Monique Snyman’s Birds Of A Feather. I was actually super grossed out by the protagonist of another story in this vein, an overwhelmed wife and mother of two whose life was one big pity party. I could generously assume that the author meant for us to believe that only the lazy and wicked turn to murder and witchcraft to solve their problems, but the amount of sympathy displayed to the main character — whose life was seriously not that hard before she just snapped — was tough to ignore.

Overall, this was a hit or miss collection for me. The good stuff was really rad, but the rest of it was kind of a chore to get through. I’m glad the book exists — the premise is great! — but I think it could have been focused a little more tightly. It tries really hard to be all things to all readers interested in the Baba Yaga myth but ends up feeling uneven depending on where your own reading tastes lean.

Into The Forest: Tales Of The Baba Yaga edited by Lindy Ryan was published November 8 2022 by Black Spot Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

Permanent link to this article:


  1. Three cheers for a stronger editorial hand, and an encore cheer for not trying to be all things to all readers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.