Review: Elena the Brave by Julie Mathison

Elena the Brave by Julie Mathison

Elena the Brave (Old Rus #2)
Julie Mathison
Starr Creek Press
Published March 1, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Elena the Brave

Old Rus, a land of witches and ogres, bogatyr warriors and six-headed dragons, magic and myth. A land lurking below the waking world, a fabled land – except for the chosen few.

It’s 1942, and the world is at war. Elena Petrovna Volkonsky is just a schoolgirl in a Pennsylvania steel town, the Russia of her forebears long forgotten – except in tales, sung by her babka in haunting tones. Elena can picture Old Rus clearly as she ponders her pet rock, its surface black and smooth, but its depths strange. Such visions! The snow-swollen Dnepr, wending southward through the wild steppe all the way to Byzantium. Vladimir of the Bright sun, ruling from glorious Kiev!. If only it were real. If only hers was not just an ordinary family in trying times. An ordinary family – with an extraordinary destiny.

Be careful what you wish for.

Meanwhile, Old Rus is in crisis. A dragon flies, a maiden is captured, and the great bogatyr, Dobrynya, is tasked with her rescue. But his son, Mitya, senses treachery on all sides. How can you save a man who will not save himself? And must he venture alone, trailing his father across the steppe where warring nomads range, even to the distant peaks of the Sorochinsk Mountains? He is prepared to do just that when a strange girl appears in the prince’s stables and upends all his plans.

What happens when two worlds – and hearts – collide?

Elena the Brave on Goodreads

My Review

I think the toughest thing about this book, for me, was reading it in the middle of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mitya lives in Kiev, and the city is part of Old Rus. So I felt like, for me right now, every time I read about Kiev (spelling from the book), I found myself thinking of Ukraine and the conflict happening there from Russia’s invasion. I’ve listed a couple of charities below for anyone interested in contributing aid.

ELENA THE BRAVE brings the same strong characters and rich landscape of folklore that VASILISA (Old Rus #1) delivered. I really enjoyed the connection between Mitya and his dad and exploring that complex relationship and the things he learned about himself through that journey.

I also loved Elena’s impulsivity and sense of humor. She often approached a conflict with an out-of-the-box idea which was just what the team needed. There were a couple of moments where I wondered if the book would wind up being more Mitya’s story, but Elena is every bit the heroine that having her name in the title implies she should be.

All in all, I feel like there’s a lot to love about this book and the series. I think fans of reimagined fairy tales or stories based on folklore will love ELENA THE BRAVE. Fans of TRAITOR’S MASQUE (another fairytale favorite of mine) definitely need to check out this series. Also, I would call this book more of a companion story than a straight up sequel. You don’t need to read VASILISA before reading ELENA THE BRAVE. (But they’re both really good.)

Support for Ukraine

If you’re active on social media, you’ve probably come across posts about reputable charities for donating money to support Ukrainians. Here are a couple more for you to consider:

Voice of Children provides psychological and psychosocial support for children affected by war. Their website lists some specific projects and ways they help. (Thank you, Beth Revis, for posting about this!)

World Central Kitchen is an organization that my family has supported, too. They’re currently working with restaurants in Ukraine to help provide meals for those who need them as well as feeding refugees fleeing into Poland. More information is available on their website, too.

Elena the Brave on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Major characters are Russian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Some magical elements and references to Russian folklore. Some characters worship a pantheon of old gods, but Christianity has been introduced in Old Rus. The prince and others worship one God.

Violent Content
Brief battle violence and situations of peril.

Drug Content
Some scenes show social drinking.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of ELENA THE BRAVE in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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