I hope you enjoy :)
I knew from the moment I read the chapter headings (The Snotling Nest, The Exploding Kitchen...) that I was going to love James Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch. And I did.
Things start out quite badly for Arianwyn (a humiliating result in an exam is always going to be a relateable low point), they get worse (Crawlers and Snotlings) and then they get even worse (out of control hex patches and Calvarias and rifts and worse). She’s got a lot on her plate but she’s more than up to the various challenges (even if she’s the last person to recognize that). Arianwyn might be all legs and messy curls and no question she has an unfortunate tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she’s not a lovable loser. She’s rather brilliant and terribly hard working and I loved her for that as well as for her bravery and kindness.
Nicol has drawn a beautifully imagined world for his characters. A brown envelope announcing Arianwyn’s posting, an atlas open to her island world of Hylund and a dot marking out Lull the little town at the very edge of the Great Wood and we know there is adventure and probably danger ahead. Place is conjured up fluently and beautifully (I want to visit the Spellorium). There are new creatures and new terrors and a new spell language, even the bus Beryl has a personality. And the physical book that holds it all is quite lovely with book cover and illustrations by Daniela Terrazzini.
But as well as being a delicious witch-in-training story this novel has a strong message, ‘Fear is with us all at some time or other. It’s nothing to be ashamed of’. Arianwyn to triumph has to get her insecurities out of the way ‘The darkness was her own doubt, her own fear and her own loneliness’, she has to become confident about her own abilities. Arianwyn can’t be allowed to be a little girl anymore, it’s time for her to become a witch. And being a witch in this story means taking care of oneself and of others – it means having a whole town dependent on you for protection. These are adult responsibilities, especially in what is, for all the warmth of some of the description, a complicated and threatened world. For the most part the adults are either not there (a father fighting battles in Veersland, a grandmother whose love is reliable but whose presence is not and whose strength is beginning to wane) or a bit useless ( Mayor Belcher). But although Arianwyn is out of the schoolroom some of the classic school book themes are still there and why not? They never really go away – competing friendships and the horrible complications when you know that someone has lied and cheated. The code of friendship is always hard to understand but especially so when it is being manipulated by someone you can’t trust. These are themes I still remember being struck by when I read the Enid Blyton school stories some forty years ago. They remain relevant.
The Apprentice Witch is the first in a series and I can see that there is so much to come. There’s a love interest in the wings and threats are surely building as much from Urisian attacks as from dark magic. Whatever comes I am confident that Arianwyn will be equal to it.
I loved this book.
Published by Chicken House Books 2016: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apprentice-Witch-James-Nicol/dp/1910655155
Until next time :)