Cover of The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos. A stylized house with three women above it.

About the Book

Title: The Wise and the Wicked
Published: 2019

Cover Story: I Could Go Either Way
Drinking Buddy: Твоё здоровье!
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (adult situations, drinking, crude humor)
Talky Talk: Who Wants to Live Forever?
Bonus Factors: Russian Folklore, Death Prophecy
Bromance Status: Friends to the End

Cover Story: I Could Go Either Way

It’s certainly a nice, eye-catching cover, but it doesn’t have much to do with the book, other than the three sisters and their house, and maybe the fairy tale motif. Not an obvious Russian theme, either. I like the skulls on the back cover.

The Deal:

Many years ago, a woman lived deep in the woods of Russia with her three daughters. She had certain…powers. She could predict the future to a degree. She could heal illnesses and injuries. She could give advice. People would come to her for help.

But with great power comes great responsibility, and the Woman of the Woods knew that danger was upon her. Men were coming who wanted her powers. Men who would hurt her family. So the woman did what had to be done. She placed her daughters on a boat to America. There, their powers weakened. Today, her great-granddaughters Dahlia, Ginger, and Ruby make a living running a tea shop and telling fortunes. Their mother ran away from her children years ago.

But the thing is, the Chernyavsky women retain one familial power. Around puberty, each girl receives a vision of the person they will be when they die. Not a vision of their death exactly, but something from around that time. It’s fate. It cannot be avoided.

Ruby, the youngest daughter, receives a vision of herself as a high school student. As she’s in the middle of her junior year, she realizes that her time is running out. But it’s destiny. There’s nothing that can be done. The family keeps a journal where each woman writes down her Time, and it’s never been wrong.

Until Ruby’s great-aunt Polina, the matriarch of the family, dies and the extended family gather together for the ceremonial reading of the journal. Two amazing things happen: Ruby’s mother returns, wanting to patch things up with her daughters. And even more surprising, Polina’s vision was of a girl dying in childbirth as a teen, rather than of a childless old woman of 90. Aunt Polina somehow avoided her fate. How? Can Ruby beat the Reaper and live to see her 20s?

Drinking Buddy: Твоё здоровье!

Two pints of beer cheersing

Oldest daughter Dahlia was forced to drop out of college to take care of her younger sisters when their mother vanished. Ginger, however, is more down to earth, and is really the one who runs the household. Ruby is at that point where she resents being babied by her older siblings, but isn’t eager to strike out on her own, either. She envies her popular cousin, Cece, but not to the point that she wants to change herself.

How does one live, when you know you’re destined to die soon? Or is she? Unfortunately, the secret may lie with her mother, whom she vowed never to speak to again. Also, the Chernyavsky women don’t usually go in for long-term relationships. Each of the sisters has a different father whom they’ve never met, and the women like it like this. But…it might be nice to have a boyfriend. Ruby’s just saying…

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (adult situations, drinking, crude humor)

So Cousin Cece is friends with the popular kids, and keeps inviting Ruby to hang out. She meets Dov, the cute, Israeli-American boy who’s just awkward enough to notice Ruby, but cool enough that she’s afraid to talk to him. Besides, why bother, she’s going to be dead in a year anyway. And it’s not like he’d ever feel the same way.

But then again, with nothing to lose, why shouldn’t Ruby go for it? It’s not like Dov has some mysterious secret, or that his family is the sworn enemy of the Chernyavskys. So don’t worry about that.

Talky Talk: Who Wants to Live Forever?

As a teen, you often have that vague feeling that the best years of your life are ahead of you, that you have decades still to accomplish whatever you like, and that nothing could truly hurt you. Ruby, however, has a creepy vision of her last bit of life, disturbingly driving the same family car they have now, with a textbook from her high school in the passenger seat. So it’s all meaningless, right?

Nope. It’s those with nothing left that can truly live. The death sentence is just the start of a year of romance, adventure, and otherworldly powers. Ruby would like to believe that she can cheat fate like Aunt Polina did, but after talking to her mother, she realizes there will be a cost. A big cost. It’s fun riding along with Ruby as she decides how much she’s willing to sacrifice for another few years. And who she’s willing to sacrifice.

Bonus Factor: Russian Folklore

St. Basil's Cathedral

Ruby and Cece research the family history and realize that an old copy of Russian fairy tales may hold a clue, especially the story of Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is a Russian witch who lives in a cabin suspended on chicken feet, surrounded by a fence made of human bones. She eats anyone who passes by her cottage. That’s kind of ominous.

Bonus Factor: Death Prophecy

Human skull

So…all the girls in the family know what they’ll be like when they die. And they learn this around age 12. If family history serves, very few of them have visions of a content old woman who’s lived a long an fulfilling life. Mostly we see youngish women, gone before their time. Or worse, trapped in a loveless marriage to a man they’ve grown to resent. Imagine being burdened with such knowledge all your adult life. You’d think these women would just give up.

Nope, it’s the knowledge of the end that makes them want to enjoy the middle. And maybe, just maybe, stick a thumb in Death’s eye.

Bromance Status: Friends to the End

I’ll enjoy this book all my life…which I hope will be a long time. Please.

Literary Matchmaking

They Both Die at the End (Death-Cast #1)

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera deals with other people who know the date of their death.

The Silent Deal (The Card Game #1)

Levi Stack’s The Silent Deal takes place in Old Russia.

All the Birds in the Sky

Charlie Jane Anders explores magical realism in All the Birds in the Sky.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or knowledge of the year of my death.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.