See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.
Once, long ago, it was believed that the woods near Duva ate young girls, and that a witch lived deep in the depths of the forest. Nayda, like all the other girls in their starving village, knows not to venture too far alone, for girls have disappeared, said to have been lured by the intoxicating smell of food. Nayda finds it hard to ignore the wood when her brother Havel has leave to join the army and her father has married Karina, who seems to hate her unreservedly. Soon, Nayda worries that Karina may actually be a khitka: a bloodthirsty forest spirit that can take any shape, especially that of a beautiful woman.
To sum this short story up in one word would be: charming. It is written in the perfect fairy-tale style, omnipresent third person, with beautiful detail to the world. The hunger of the starving villagers is captured in a way that is painfully realistic and make the read huger in sympathy, and Nayda's fears and loneliness is evident throughout the story.
The best part of this story, however, is that even though it starts as a typical fairy-tale, it actually challenges the troupes often used within these tales - the evil stepmother, the unloved and ignored child, the women who use magic always being witches - and turns them on their head. Traditional fairy-tales have a habit of using two-dimensional characters and categorising women as either the sweet, naive virgin, or the evil, seductive, or bitter villain. Leigh Bardugo uses these troupes only to then twist them around and rip them apart at the end, in a way that makes you see the whole story in a new light and question who is really the villain and try to see the hidden motives of the characters. Even with this though, there is no true villain: no one person who is pure evil through and through. This brings a realistic light to a genre that created many stereotypes, and make Leigh Bardugo an author to watch.