In this sequel to Devil's Kiss, Billi SanGreal teenage Knight Templar rescues a young girl from a savage attack by The Polenitsy, a band of all-female werewolves that have been sent to hunt her by Baba Yaga, the Dark Goddess of Russian mythology. The Templars take Vasilisa Bulgakov into hiding where it becomes clear that the young girl is an avatar, either blessed or cursed with special powers. Baba Yaga wants the powers that Vasilisa possess to help her engender Fimbulwinter, an ice age that will end the world.
Billi, her father and Vasilisa flee this latest attack via the London sewers and take the tube to Heathrow.The train starts up, and then the lights go out...
What is impressive about Sarwat's books is that although they are written for a mainly teenage audience they have a real depth to them. He had told me that he had written his first Baba Yaga story sixteen years ago
I don't know when I first came across Baba Yaga, but I’ve a vague memory of hearing about her on Jackanory (remember that?) when I was about five or six.
A Russian witch who flies around in a pestle and mortar, lives in a hut that walks on huge chicken legs and eats naughty children.
Evil witch. Yes, we know all about those.
Then in the early 1990’s I came across her again, in a book called ‘Women Who Run with Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The book investigates the ancient origins of a lot of female fairy tale and mythological characters, and at the heart of them was Baba Yaga. The most ancient. The most powerful. The most evil and most honest.
That book, though I didn’t know it at the time, would change my life.
Baba Yaga was a witch, a wise woman. She was the wild goddess, the Old Crone who delivered you and who will wrap your body in its burial shroud.
I love myths. I love the wild, larger-than-life stories where destinies are writ large in blood on the snow. When I created Billi SanGreal I wanted her to reflect the great mythological heroines. She’s got the blood of Boudicca in her veins. Of the Rani of Jhansi. She’s got a touch of Athene, not Austen.
These characters have been around for centuries, for millennia. But none so old as Baba Yaga.
DARK GODDESS uses the idea that Baba Yaga is part of the Great Goddess, the divine being worshipped by prehistoric man and early civilizations, before the rise of patriarchal societies and their masculine gods. Check out Robert Graves who deals a lot in the role of the goddess in early Greek myths. Baba Yaga is Demeter and Persephone, the goddess of both life and the underworld. She is the true power of the female and to grow all girls must face her, or forever remain children. Through Baba Yaga we learn about the responsibility we have to society and the greater world, our duties as adults. Don’t look to others to sort things out, she says, that’s childish. Look first to yourself. Baba Yaga’s lesson is as simple and fundamental as that. The same applies to men, but that’s another story (and it’s called ‘Iron John’ by Robert Bly).
I wonder, as children we want to be adults, then as adults we look with longing back at our childhood. Growing up is scary. We worship youth and despise old age.
Not so with Baba Yaga. Age has its advantages. DARK GODDESS is about Billi growing up and accepting responsibility for her actions and her effect on the wider world. In the first book, DEVIL’S KISS Billi’s self-absorbed by her own needs, she’s a child. In that book she must decide what sort of Templar she wants to be. In DARK GODDESS she decides what sort of woman she wants to be.
There’s no lesson in DARK GODDESS. It’s about tragic romance, it’s about werewolves and it’s about swordfights. I love stories where the stakes are high and success is never sure and all victories come at a terrible price. That’s what DARK GODDESS is. But it’s also about Baba Yaga, the wise woman, and what she teaches Billi. In their own way they’re both the dark goddess of the title. And that’s not a bad thing.