Vasilisa by Julie Mathison is a young adult fantasy book that merges Russian folklore with a coming-of-age story. It features the adventures of a teenage girl named Vasilisa, who is on a quest to find her father and save her mother from the clutches of an evil man.


When the letter arrived at their house, bearing the news that her father had been missing in action during the Great War, Vasilisa desperately clung to the hope that he was still alive. When Mr. Goladyen, the wealthy neighbor, set his eyes upon her mother, she tried to thwart the match in any way possible. However, the smarmy man seemed to have an otherworldly hold on her beloved grandmother, the strongest person Vasilisa knew. When Ivan, the son of her grandmother’s old friend, arrived in their town, she realized the root of the problems went deeper. Even though her family had emigrated out of Russia, the lands of Rus had never left them. Vasilisa and Ivan must navigate the path of the mythical heroes righting an old wrong. Be a part of their adventures in Vasilisa, the first book of Julie Mathison’s Old Rus series.

The novel, steeped in Russian mythology and folklore, created a unique appeal. The pages were full of old legends and bedtime tales, albeit with a modern-day twist. The infamous witch, Baba Yaga, dominated the story while Old Koschei tried to lure Vasilisa. The talking matryoshka doll of the fables helped in her quest. Folkloric creatures like the domovoy, leshy, and rusalka came alive in the pages. With the snow-capped valleys, dark forests, and chilling encounters with deadly foes, the setting of Old Rus enthralled me.

I loved how Mathison used the setting to foreshadow the book’s events. The deserted mill and the misty forests conveyed an acute foreboding. This feeling of unease stayed with me as I read on, threatening to engulf me whenever Vasilisa would invade a mythical monster’s territory or confront a maniacal witch. Mathison created a distinct sensation of something always lurking in the shadows, a feeling that suited the plot perfectly.

I admired that the central character of this book was a teenage girl leading an ordinary life. When the extraordinary events plagued her world, she embraced the inevitable and bravely set out for the quest. Even as she delved deeper into the adventure, she had no idea what to expect. Despite feeling afraid and doubting her self-worth, she carried on, thus becoming a true hero. Yet, her story took a detour from the old legends. The heroes always receive help from the guiding characters and go on to complete their quest. Vasilisa was the only one who offered assistance to the matryoshka, nursed the wounded wolf, and tended to the creepy crawlies. Her kindness set her apart from the heroes before her.

Despite the story being plot-centric, Mathison developed her characters well. Vasilisa’s friendship with Evelyn grew despite the constant ups and downs. Ivan and Vasilisa’s love bloomed silently throughout the hurdles they overcame together. Although each cared deeply for the other, none could express their emotions. Their suppressed feelings and angst made me desperate for a happy ending. Thus, this novel became both a young adult fantasy and a coming-of-age story. I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates fantasy and mythology. This book would be perfect for the fans of Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy.

Book Details

  • Title: Vasilisa
  • Author: Julie Mathison
  • Genre: Historical Fantasy and Young Adult Fiction
  • Theme: Russian Mythology, Fantasy, Coming of Age, Adventure
  • Publication Date: 23 February 2021
  • Number of Pages: 322
  • Minimum Audience Age: 12

Book Themes

(Note: 0=none, 1=a few, 2=considerable, 3=pronounced, 4=excessive)

  • Sexual themes: 0
  • Religious themes: 0
  • Violence, self-harm, etc.: 3
  • Crude language, expletives, swearing, etc.: 0
  • Other adult themes: 0


  • Content: 5 stars
  • Writing Style: 5 stars
  • Appeal to Target Audience: 5 stars
  • Uniqueness: 5 stars
  • Editing: 5 stars
  • Other factors: 5 stars
  • Overall: 5 stars

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By Shrabastee Chakraborty

An avid reader, a reviewer, and a beta-reader, I love books from diverse genres.

2 thoughts on “A Book Review by Shrabastee: “Vasilisa” by Julie Mathison”
  1. I love folklore because I think it’s a fascinating way to learn about the viewpoint and values, about what’s important or terrifying for a culture. And I agree with you, it’s refreshing to find a YA novel with an “ordinary” protagonist. Fantastic review!

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