The enchanting tale of a wolf who forms an unlikely alliance with Baba Yaga to save the forest from a wicked tsar.
"Karah Sutton has crafted a vivid and rollicking adventure that proves a wolf doesn't have to be big or bad to win the day!" --Rosanne Parry, New York Times bestselling author of A Wolf Called Wander
Since she was a pup, Zima has been taught to fear humans--especially witches--but when her family is threatened, she has no choice but to seek help from the witch Baba Yaga.
Baba Yaga never does magic for free, but it just so happens that she needs a wolf's keen nose for a secret plan she's brewing . . . Before Zima knows what's happening, the witch has cast a switching spell and run off into the woods, while Zima is left behind in Baba Yaga's hut--and Baba Yaga's body!
Meanwhile, a young village girl named Nadya is also seeking the witch's help, and when she meets Zima (in Baba Yaga's form), they discover that they face a common enemy. With danger closing in, Zima must unite the wolves, the witches and the villagers against an evil that threatens them all.
Infused with Russian folklore and brought vividly to life in Pauliina Hannuniemi's gorgeous illustrations, Karah Sutton's magical debut is a celebration of wolves and witches, and the importance of finding common ground with our so-called enemies.
An Excerpt fromA Wolf for a Spell
Fear sank its jaws into Zima as she recognized the smell of magic. She pressed her nose to the ground and sniffed again. Like moonlight and decay--it burrowed into her nose, slippery and sinister. She shook her head and huffed to clear out her nostrils.
A shiver rippled through Zima’s silvery-gray fur. She knew what the smell meant.
The witch was nearby.
It almost seemed like the witch was following them. This was the third time Zima had smelled magic in the past three days.
Her little brother Potok sneezed and scratched his paw at his snout. Together Zima and Potok backed away, out of the cloud of scent and behind a clump of spiky evergreen trees.
But Leto, Potok’s littermate, kept his nose to the ground. He turned to Zima with his ears back and his black fur on end. We should get Grom, he said.
It was the right thing for him to say. Grom was their older brother and the leader of the pack. He would know what to do about a witch.
But why did they need Grom? Zima was the second oldest. Surely Leto could trust her to handle the witch without Grom’s help.
Potok let out a whimper and pawed at the dirt. He clearly wanted to get away from the smell as much as she did.
She tried to take on an air of authority as she voiced her disagreement. We will be safer going to the home place, she said, referring to the glen they’d marked as their territory, where they’d sleep for the next few days. We go the way we came--to the river--and follow it back.
It would take much longer to go that way, of course, but it would give them a wide berth around the witch. And it would keep them clear of the dangers of the forest--towering hogweed plants that could kill a wolf with a single touch, unexpected shafts leading to caves that could trap a wolf for days, poison streams that gurgled with Waters of Death. Navigating the forest was dangerous business.
She waited for Leto to give the signal that he would follow her lead.
But he didn’t.
His body language spoke clearer than words: I want to call for Grom.
He wanted Grom to lead them. Zima stared Leto down, trying to shake away the hurt that clung to her chest. But instead, he raised his nose to the air. With his jaw jutting forward, he prepared to howl.
Before he could, a rustle ahead made Zima’s ears prick.
She nudged Leto and pointed with her snout. He swallowed the howl. Together they turned to peer at something beyond the grove where they stood.
A figure was just visible, lurking between the trees.
But there was no smell of magic about this person.
Zima crept closer and crouched behind a large rock, with Leto following close behind. His tail began to wag as he caught the scent Zima tasted on the breeze. Potok’s nervous breathing pulsed in the clearing behind them, where he kept his distance from the danger.
It was no witch. The thing, moving through the woods mere whiskers away, was a human girl.
The human hummed to herself as she picked her way along an unseen path, clutching a worn piece of fabric about her shoulders. The woven coverings on her feet rustled with each step. Zima searched for the glint of a knife. No weapon was visible, but she must have one hidden somewhere.
Zima fought the urge to flee. This was her chance to prove that she could take care of her brothers.
A conversation with Grom from a few months before swam in her memory. He had pressed a heavy paw on a length of twine. One end of the twine was wrapped around a sapling, and the other was tied around the neck of a fox. The fox’s struggles must have tightened the cord until he collapsed and breathed no more. Zima couldn’t unsee the fear still frozen in the fox’s eyes, or the long scratch marks he had left in the dirt.
They are getting bolder, Grom had said. And it was true. The humans were setting more traps deeper into the forest, and the shift had been sudden and swift, like a new wind carrying great black clouds. The question was, how many more of them were coming, and how much longer would it be before one of Zima’s pack got hurt?
Grom had read Zima’s thoughts in the hang of her tail and the twitch of her ears, and he nodded. Something has changed, he said. The danger grows by the day. A fierce need to protect the pack burned in his eyes as he said, From now on, we must take no chances. If you see humans, kill them, before they kill you.
Zima shuddered. She knew what Grom would tell her to do.
What she had to do.
She had to kill the human.
Her eyes focused back on Leto. He hadn’t moved. We need Grom, he said again. He began to retreat from her, his back paws brushing aside soil-colored leaves.
No! said Zima under her breath. The human will hear you. I can do this, alone. She repeated the thought to herself. She could do this. She could do this.
But the tilt of Leto’s ears showed his disbelief. He didn’t trust her to protect him.
She had to prove him wrong. She crept closer to the human and closed her eyes, focusing on the scents of hair and sweat, and smoke from kitchen fires. She knew the smells from the only time she’d ever been to the village, when her father had taken her, before he died, at the peak of the warm season.
Her father used to say that humans and wolves could coexist if they left each other alone. But Grom had taken a harsher approach since he became the new leader of the pack: humans were deadly and an increasing threat to life in the forest. Kill them, before they kill you.
It is too dangerous, Zima, said Potok, his green eyes aglow between the branches of his hiding place. Wait for Grom.
He didn’t think she could do this either.
They were both wrong.
With her eyes closed, Zima sniffed the air, feeling the exact place where the human stood. She mapped out the precise height and distance she would have to leap to take the human by surprise. Leto would be impressed. He had to be.
When she opened her eyes again, she glanced toward Leto to make sure he saw, but he was gone. Potok too. They’d left Zima alone with the human.
Zima dragged her claws through the dirt in disappointment. Leto was going to call for Grom. Soon she would hear a howl and . . .
. . . and the human would too.
Zima looked up. If she waited much longer, the chance to surprise the human would be gone. Now was her moment to attack, to prove that she could protect the pack just as well as Grom.
Her eyes narrowed, Zima slunk around the rock and behind a wide oak to get a better view of the human. If she could get the girl by the neck, she could snap her jaws and the human would be dead in an instant.
Zima moved right behind the human and crouched to spring.
The human reached up to tug on the fabric covering her hair. Then she stopped, her hand hovering near her neck.
Zima recognized the stiffness of her shoulders and the twitch in her hands. It was the look of prey that knows it’s being watched.
The human called out some words in her language. Her voice quivered, bouncing through the darkness like a bird searching for its lost chick.
There was nothing to do but attack the human, noiselessly. It was now or never.
But then the human made a sound. A whimper.
The girl was frightened. But humans didn’t feel fear--they always attacked first.
Kill them before they kill you. Grom’s words rang in her ears and threaded through her thoughts, roots buried inside her and holding on tight.
Zima set her jaw. She had to do this to protect her family. Keeping them safe was as vital as the blood that thrummed in her throat. She readied her legs to leap.
A howl pierced the air. Leto, calling for Grom, giving Zima’s location.
The girl whipped around at the sound. Her eyes grew wide as they caught sight of Zima with her bared fangs and taut tail.
Their eyes locked for a moment.
Kill them before they kill you.
The girl blinked. She took a step back. And another. She glanced behind her at the path.
This girl wasn’t preparing to attack, she was preparing to flee.
That wasn’t right. Humans were dangerous, but this human wasn’t trying to fight.
When Grom had uttered the words, Zima had imagined herself staring down the shaft of an arrow, bravely leaping to attack a hunter before he could release the string. Killing a human that had no weapons, made no move to attack . . . surely this wasn’t what Grom meant?
A thought flickered in Zima’s mind, burning bright before she had a chance to snuff it out: she didn’t have to kill the girl. She could leave, and the girl wouldn’t follow.
Zima closed her mouth and straightened her ears. Finally, she scrambled away, back around the boulder.
The girl’s quick breaths formed a panicked rhythm.
Suddenly shame washed over Zima. What was she doing? She’d given herself away, failed to kill the girl, and was now hiding like some sort of twitchy little rabbit. And Leto and Grom would arrive at any moment.
There was still time to do it. She peeked around the boulder. The girl met her eyes.
And then the girl smiled. Not a sinister, cruel smile. It was alight with kindness. She lifted a little hand and waved it.
Zima ducked behind the rock. She couldn’t bring herself to do it, not now that she’d looked in the girl’s eyes and seen no hint of the threat that Grom had assured her she’d find. Keeping motionless, she listened for the girl’s breathing. After some minutes there was a rustle of movement, and soft footsteps pattered away from the clearing.
For what seemed like an age, Zima sat there, too afraid to move. What had she done? She’d put compassion for a human above the safety of her pack. She’d let a human wander free in the middle of the forest. Her mind raced, her stomach heavy with embarrassment and shame. It took her a moment to notice that a new smell had seeped into the clearing.
It was the stink of magic, of the witch she’d detected just before. It filled her nose and throat, making her gag.
Her chest tightened. She had to get away from this place.