In Toby Barlow’s second novel, Babayaga, he moves from the werewolves of his first book, Sharp Teeth, to extremely touchy witches, bumbling spies and 1950s Paris. I found the book fascinating for its mixture of qualities; it is humorous with dark undercurrents. Babayaga begins with Zoya, a beautiful Russian emerge witch living in Paris, murdering her lover/protector (in a rather gruesome way) when he notices that she hasn’t aged. I say “notices”–it was more of an off hand comment that could have just been a compliment. Did I mention the witches in this book are extremely touchy? Anyway, this sets off a witch vs witch conflict with Elga, who is senior to Zoya and a lot crankier. Now enter Will, the proverbial American in Paris. Will comes to the City of Light to work at an advertising agency. He isn’t doing so well, but he has two things that keep him going: his love of Paris and that he’s feeding information to the CIA. He inadvertently sets off a spy vs spy thing with a guy who may or may not be all together there. In short, he’s in way over his head. Things go from bad to worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) when he meets Zoya and her witch vs witch thing gets mixed up with Will’s spy vs spy thing. Oh, and the witches also have a tendency to turn people into animals, which creates some interesting subplots. This story has a lot going for it: The characters are very complex; the way the back story of the witches is dolled out in snippets (sometimes in the form of witch songs) makes the plot a bit of a puzzle to be figured out; there’s a lot of dark humor and some very deep drama as well. There’s also Paris, which is practically its own character.
If you still aren’t sure, check out this interview with the author in the Daily News: Toby Barlow talks witches, spies, advertising, and new novel ‘Babayaga’.