Monday, March 14, 2016

Wickedly Powerful (Baba Yaga #3) by Deborah Blake

Bella is one of the three Baba Yagas in charge of the United States.  When she feels an urge to head to the forest in Wyoming, Bella is originally unsure if she is there to investigate the missing Riders, or to deal with the sudden fires that are occurring.  Growing up as a Baba Yaga in training was hard for Bella and she found that never really fit in with humans and therefore now enjoys spending time by herself with her companion Koshka, a dragon disguised as a cat.  The stakes her high but despite all Bella has to do, she finds herself distracted by the handsome but deeply scared, former hotshots fireman Sam Corbett.  If that were not enough, when Bella finds Jazz, a runaway teen living rough in the forest, Bella realises that she cannot just leave the girl to fend for herself. Can Bella somehow handle it all?

By now, the Baba Yaga series has become pretty predictable.  When Bella meets Sam and Jazz, there's never any doubt that all three of them will end up together living as a family. It's always only a matter of how it happens.  That beings said, when Bella's fellow Baba Yagas show up to look for her, I was expecting  Deborah Blake to bring on the awesome.  I feel very much at this point that we were due, particularly given that this book was written largely by the numbers.  Unfortunately, to say the big showdown was anticlimactic is to be kind. Blake didn't bring the epic and seemed rush to wrap everything up in a neat little bow, so that she could move onto writing about the Riders.

I liked watching Jazz and Bella bond; however, I wished that the bond had not occurred over the fact that they are both orphans and come from a history of abuse.  I suppose at least for Jazz, there was no other way to have her living in a forest withput adult supervision.  The issue for me is that suffering is used too often as a shortcut to characterization.  The same issue occurred with Sam, with his PTSD, survivor's guilt and scared face. I never felt like I got to know Sam as a person and he really became was his loss and fears.  The only good thing I can say is that while woo woo was used to cure Sam of his lung damage and scars, at least Blake had Sam acknowledge that dealing with his PTSD was going to take some time.

The antagonist is Brenna, a former Baba Yaga the queen had forced to retire.  We met Brenna in Wickedly Wonderful; however Blake did a good job of explaining to readers where Brenna's anger stemmed from and her history with the Baba Yagas.  If you have not read any of the other books in this series, you will not have any trouble following along with Wickedly Powerful. Brenna, is not pleased to have been forced to retire and she is further enraged that this means the loss of the Water of Life and Death, which slows down the aging process of the Baba Yagas and strengthens their powers. As her hair begins to go grey and bones begin to creak, Brenna is driven to kidnap the Riders and torture them until they lose their immortality so she that she can become what she once was - powerful.

I can completely empathise with Brenna's feelings because she was quite clearly cast aside for a newer younger model in the form of Beka.  The problem with Brenna is that her feelings were reduced to someone who had gone "crazy" because over the years she had consumed too much of the magical water.  Mental illness, no matter what form it takes is not caused by woo woo.  It is further problematic that Brenna's mental illness is then used to explain her violent actions towards Bella, and the Riders.  I know I have repeated this ad nauseum but the conflation of mental illness with violence is ableist, particularly when we consider that mentally ill people are more of a danger to themselves than to the public.  Even if I could have gotten past this horrible characterisation, there's the issue that Blake calls Brenna, "crazy" on multiple occasions and its clearly implied that this is meant to impugn her character.

As always, the star of this book hands down goes to Chudo Yudo.  The dragon disguised as a cat added all of the comedic relief.  I couldn't help but giggle when Koshka pointed out to Jazz that a Baba Yaga is responsible for taking care of her Chudo Yudo and therefore, Jazz should start making tuna sandwiches as part of her training. Koshka's smart mouth kept the story interesting and from being weighed down by the romance aspect. Of the three Chudo Yudos, I think that Koska is my favourite, even if has a tuna addiction in need of care.

With Brenna meeting her firey end and the Riders saved, Blake neatly tied up the loose ends in this series, leaving her free to turn her attention to the now mortal Riders.  I went into this series with a lot of hope.  The Baba Yaga is not a mythical being who has gotten a lot of attention in modern urban fantasy.  I quickly realised however that Blake had used the Baba Yagas as a device with much of the teeth ripped out of the legend/myth in order to sell paranormal romance books.  I can live with the fact that the mortar and pestle had to get updated and even the idea that the Baba Yaga is not necessarily a crone but I kept waiting to see the appearance of the tough, terrifying witch from lore and  she never appeared. This is not a series for those interested in Baba Yaga but if you're looking for a benign paranormal romance story with elements of magic which can be read quickly, it might be for you.