Kara and her brother, Taff, are shunned by their village because their mother was a witch. The villagers believe nothing is more evil than magic, except for what lurks in the nearby Thickety. But when Kara enters the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book, a grimoire that might have belonged to her mother. The events she then sets in motion are both awe-inspiring and terrifying...
I grabbed this off the library shelf partly because of the cover, partly because of its shape (a square!) and partly because of the blurb from Angie Sage and other middle grade authors.
It was excellently written! Great characters, very interesting worldbuilding (pseudo-Puritan, but somehow worse), cool magical fantasy stuff that didn’t feel similar to other MG fantasy books. Even the villains had moments of humanity, which is somewhat rare in a middle grade book. And it ended on a cliffhanger so of course I want to read the rest of the series ASAP.
If I’d read this as a child, coming fresh off a wave of Goosebumps marathons, I would’ve just thought it was a cool fantasy book with a neat-o heroine and a slightly spooky setting. As an adult, those spooky things were freaking me out because I recognized what was going on behind the scenes. I guess you’d call that a “parental bonus,” maybe?
Spooky things in this book included: demons, witchcraft hunts/interrogations/punishments on par with IRL witch hunts, books that eat people, monsters, demonic monsters, demonic children, child abuse and neglect, addiction, religious cult(s), and body horror. However, almost none of it was graphic or highly realistic. The murders (for instance) are off-page and mostly just implied. On the flip side, the unrealistic nature of some events was a little iffy. For instance, Kara’s tortured by pressing and didn’t a) die or b) become horribly maimed. (In fact, most of the things that happen to Kara have no lasting physical remnants, which might be the point? I’ll have to read the other books to see…)
The only thing that really went into detail was the dangers of addiction. Part of the set-up is that using magic with a grimoire makes you addicted to it– and both Kara and her antagonist quickly become addicts. It’s a good talking point for other kinds of addictions…and just a good plot point, as well.
I’m definitely going to read the rest of the series this year.
Read: February 19-20, 2020
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