Reviews /

The October Witches

Authored by Jennifer Claessen
Illustrated by Heidi Cannon
Published by Uclan Publishing

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The October Witches is a refreshing debut with links to Arthurian legend, it merges family relationships with magic and the misuse of power with the hope and optimism of youth in an exciting adventure. 

Twelve-year-old Clemmie lives with her mum, aunts and cousin in a crowded house in an atmosphere that is both chaotic and loving. This is no ordinary family. Each October the older members of the family are transformed by the magical power that descends on them for one month only. This may be the year that Clemmie receives this special magic for the first time. As the first of October approaches and the women of the Merlyn family gather to meet with their rivals, the Morgan coven, Clemmie is both excited and nervous. However, the Morgans have a different approach to the magical powers bestowed on each clan and want to harness their power for all time. Their leader, the evil Aunt Morgan, is a villain in the best tradition of children’s stories, callous and power hungry, with no sensitivity shown to anyone, even her own daughters. The conflict between the two families increases in danger and builds to a situation that may end in disaster. 

Clemmie, despite the magical context, is a typical young girl with worries about school, a need to be liked and included by her more confident cousin and, although a little embarrassed by some of their behaviour, has a close bond with her mum and aunts. Her home despite the muddled air is full of creativity and warmth and her family are a sharp contrast to the cold and aloof Morgans. Clemmie, an engaging protagonist, is trying to cope with growing up and the awareness of family secrets from which she is being shielded.

The plot picks up speed about a third of the way through and the action builds to an exciting and dramatic finale that young readers should enjoy. The story cleverly blends the magical family adventure with Arthurian legend in a way that adds an extra dimension to the plot and this may well encourage readers to explore the original stories to discover more. There are some thoughtful themes mixed with the humour and magic about the complexity of families and the way in which the misunderstandings of the past can hinder present happiness. There is hopeful optimism in the way in which the younger generation from both families behave towards each other as the story develops. 

Fantasy has a strong appeal for upper primary age readers and this story has a balance of relatable family experience too that may well widen its readership. It has been announced that there are two more books in the series on the way and it will be fascinating to see how the characters develop.