The story begins with answers to the unheard questions of a child.
There is a witch in the woods.’
I wanted to know who was talking and who was listening, hungry to build on the story, not content to wait for more snippets to be revealed. These remembered one sided conversations pepper the story, leading us on as the characters story develop and entwine.
Of course a witch in the woods leads us to all sorts of preconceived scheme which were pretty quickly twisted and turned upside down. There is a wicked witch but not where we expect!
We are introduced to a cheerful fantasy world of well meaning witches, Perfectly Tiny dragons and poetic bog monsters who have lived together in the forest for over 500 years. But in the village, sorrow hangs low like a woollen blanket. The Protectorate is isolated from the rest of the world with only The Road, controlled by the Council allowing limited trade.
Each year a baby is sacrificed to the witch. Each year the witches act of kindness unknowingly perpetrates generations of sorrow.
This year the mother fights back, but it is futile.
The madwoman remembered the weight of an infant in her arms. The smell of the scalp. The joyful kick of a brand-new pair of legs. The astonished waving of tiny hands.
This year, the witch feeds the baby moonlight by accident and the baby is enmagicked. We fall in love with Luna as Xan the witch, Fyrion the dragon and, against his better judgement, Glerk the bog monster do. We are enmagicked by her spirit and curiosity.
This year, the mother is not the only one to fight back. A small seed is of a thought is planted as the characters stories are woven together to create an ending and beginning all at once.
If one belief is proved wrong, such as a damaged man being shown love, could other beliefs be wrong?
We couldn’t stop it if we tried. Its what everyone told themselves.
What would happen if we tried?
The environment is a character in it’s own right, bubbling and boiling under them. Foreshadowing trouble and change ahead. The volcano beneath the forest and the village was a tricky thing. It grumbled as it slept, spewing foul odours, gas, boiling streams and heating geysers.
We are also provoked to think about what happens to us when we act impulsively from anger and fear?
She could feel her magic rush from the centre of the earth, through her feet and out the top of her head on its way to the sky, back ans forth and back and forth, like massive waves pushing and pulling at the shore.
I enjoyed the curious use of poetry from the bog monster, older than magic itself, powerful and enigmatic.
Kelly Barnhill managed to create touching, sad and yet amusing conversations like this one between Glerk and Luna,
‘I dislike the Poet as well. He can go boil his head.’
Those words cut Glerk to his core. He pressed his four hands to his heart and fell down heavily upon his great bottom, curling his tail around his body in a protective gesture.
‘What a thing to say.’
‘I mostly mean it,’ Luna said.
I think this book would appeal to different age groups on different levels. I enjoyed and appreciated the use of language and twists in the different characters stories. I think this would appeal to ‘tweens, approaching 13 like Luna, who often feel constrained by the accepted beliefs and expectations for those between the world of childhood and the teenage years.