Book Review

The Witch & The Tsar – Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Well, 2022 is certainly going out with a bang – my final blog tour this year features one of the best books I have read this year, the wonderfully wintery The Witch & The Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore. Many thanks to Olesya and to Harper Voyager for providing me with a copy of the book, and to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour.


As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumours about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia – now the wife of the tsar and suffering from a mysterious illness – arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realises that the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan – soon to become Ivan the Terrible – grows more volatile and tyrranical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

In this stunning debut novel, the maligned and immortal witch of legend known as Baba Yaga will risk all to save her country and people from Tsar Ivan the Terrible – and the dangerous gods who seek to drive the twisted hearts of men.



Wow! I thought I was almost set on my favourite books of 2022, but this one has certainly put a spanner in the works. From the cover to the very last page, The Witch and The Tsar is an utterly beautiful book, exquisitely written and absolutely captivating. I studied Russian history at A-level many years ago, and this book brought the rich culture, landscape and folklore of the country to life in a way my teacher could only have dreamed off.

Part historical fiction, part reimagining of Russian folklore, The Witch and The Tsar weaves together the facts of Ivan IV’s reign of terror with the traditional tales of Baba Yaga and Koshey Bessmertny, giving a twist to their stories and offering a new explanation for Ivan’s behaviour. I was not hugely familiar with Russian folklore prior to reading this book, but it has left me wanting to know more and I will certainly be looking for more about Yaga and Koshey.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore’s characters are simply wonderful, and I felt an emotional attachment to each and every one of them. She even managed to make Ivan the Terrible seem somewhat relatable! Even the worst, most evil of the characters had motivations that were understandable, whilst their actions remained awful. It is no mean feat to make a reader feel sorry for the antagonist, but Olesya succeeds in this beautifully.

It is hard to believe that The Witch and The Tsar is the debut novel from Olesya Salnikova Gilmore. I think we can expect great things in the future, and personally, I can’t wait!


Olesya Salnikova Gilmore was born in Moscow, Russia, and raised in the United States, and graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in English/political science, and from Northwestern University School of Law with a JD. She practised litigation at a large law firm for several years before pursuing her dream of becoming an author. She is happiest writing historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Eastern European folklore. She lives in a wooded lakeside suburb of Chicago with her husband and daughter. The Witch and the Tsar is her debut novel.






Make sure you check out the other blogs taking part in the tour.


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