In the words of my 11-year-old daughter: ‘Witch is a wonderful book. It is about a girl who tries to run away from her destiny – to be a witch – but then embraces it to take revenge on the witch-hunters who killed her mother.’
It is the debut novel by Finbar Hawkins and is steeped in seventeenth-century witchcraft and civil unrest. Immediately I was won over by the voice of Evey, our main protagonist. ‘I never did no magick. Not at the time they said, anyways. It was Mother who heard them. Mother could hear a frog hiccup from a mile yonder. She could whisper out a blackcap nesting in the trees. Mother had old ways, from far across the sea’. The reader is aware of the tensions in Evey’s heart as she tries to honour her mother, protect her sister, Dill, and at the same time tame her jealousy of her little sister. She is, simply put, brimming with anger.
We see the political events of the period unfold as people betray each other for political gain but it is through the eyes of a confused child so the historical background is not made explicit. The carefully crafted language is both lyrical and of the landscape: ‘We ran fleet foot, wind after catching us, and we found Mother, leaning on a staff. She pressed a bag to me. She was pale as birch bark. She could not run. Her leg was twisted and scarred like a root grown wrong.’ The dramatic, brutal and fast-paced opening to the novel then takes several twists and turns before moving forward with the development of an unlikely friendship between Evey and a noblewoman, Anne. The events that follow keep both the characters and the reader on their toes as they lead towards a satisfying conclusion.
A mature reader in Year 6, who enjoys historical and dark fantasy fiction, would enjoy Witch and I would recommend it to such a reader. The opening murder of the mother is described in detail so I would be mindful of that. This debut is best placed in the hands of readers by librarians who know their pupils in both primary and secondary libraries. A great new addition to the historical fiction shelves.
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