“Egg and Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

Reading Western fiction set in Russia, or some version of Russia, is always a little off-putting for me, and at first I didn’t know what to make of “Egg and Spoon.” It’s certainly a Western take on Russia, but it’s a gorgeous, multi-layered confection for all that.

It’s set sometime shortly before the Revolution, if I’m any guess (there are references to “Another war with Japan,” suggesting sometime around 1905), and is full of period detail, fairy tale references, and magic. It’s hard to pin down the exact subgenre: fantasy for sure, but with aspects of epic fantasy (the main characters go on a journey to save the world), urban fantasy (magic breaks through the wall between stories and reality, surprising everyone), and historical fantasy (the aforementioned setting in pre-Revolutionary Russia). As with the copious use of Russian motifs (everything from matryoshki to Pushkin) married with a contemporary English full of modern American slang, the effect is both fascinating and disconcerting. Like the Faberge egg that features prominently in the plot, the result is something that constantly draws attention to itself as a work of artifice, but *is* in fact a complex work of art. Not that it’s dry or overly intellectual: “Egg and Spoon” bursts with exuberance and sly wit at every turn. A unique, not to say peculiar, work to be sure, but one certainly worth reading, especially for fans of “smart” fantasy or readers who love to pick out every Easter egg and extra-textual allusion.

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