'The Apprentice Witch' has been on my radar for a while but I only wish someone had zapped me with a spell orb to make me read it sooner. What a brilliantly entertaining and engrossing children's book this is! Reading this charmed me in the same warm, cosy and exciting way that Harry Potter first did. And with Arianwyn we have a truly great character to feel for and champion along the way.
After failing her witch's assessment, for uncertain reasons, young Arianwyn is sent to the remote town of Lull. Here she must overcome her fears and insecurities in order to face a mysterious darkness growing in the woods and haunting her spells. To do so means proving to the town, to the mayor, to her arch-enemy and, more importantly, to herself than she can earn her star badge to become a real witch.
James Nichol has created a new series brimming with magic and bursting with heart. While a lot here may feel familiar - magical training, monsters, darkness and absent parents - 'The Apprentice Witch' also feels refreshing and electric. To a large extent this is due to Nichol's excellent characterization. Not only is Arianwyn a quirky, lovable and vulnerable character to root for, but there is also a well-realized cast of friends, antagonists and doubters who all have their own arcs. I loved the mayor's journey. Such a seemingly minor character is rendered so vividly it makes the rises and falls of the narrative all the more rewarding. The final chapters are addictively good and the ending is one of the most triumphant and uplifting I have read.
There are many questions left to be answered for the sequels. Plus a whole wider world to explore. Nichol has created a tantalizing mythology - one which has got me quickly under the spell. Fabulous stuff!
I'm sure many of you have read this already. If you haven't, don't be too late to the party like me!