The Witch's Boy
By Kelly Barnhill
Expected publication September 16, 2014 by Algonquin Young Readers
The wrong boy lived. Those are the words whispered around him, the words that have haunted Ned since the day he and his brother tried to sail to the sea - and only one of them returned. Ned might finally have a chance to prove those words wrong when a bandit from another land threatens their magic. But what happens when that bandit's daughter meets Ned? Will she protect her father or the strange boy her mother once told her would save her life?
This is the first book by Barnhill that I've read. I spotted the cover reveal months ago and was immediately intrigued, and reading the synopsis only further piqued my interest. Then I saw the title pop up in discussions about Newbery buzz, leaving me even further intrigued. So, when I spotted the galley available for download, I took my chance.
As I said, this is the first of Barnhill's work that I've read - I remember Iron-Hearted Violet getting some buzz and wanting to read it but never finding the time. Now that I've read this one, I'll definitely be going back and reading her earlier titles. This was a lovely book. The writing is engaging and magical - I loved reading every sentence Barnhill put on the page. There was just something enchanting about the way she told this story. I liked spending time with both Ned and Aine (though I did spend a lot of time wondering how to pronounce her name) - I felt both characters come to life with Barnhill's words.
I really liked the magic that Barnhill created as well. It was unique, different than most fairy tale magic, and I loved seeing the way it interacted with the characters in the book. This is not a short book (in fact, it seems that most middle grade fantasy is at least 300 pages nowadays, if not closer to 400). It's also not necessarily action-packed. Of course, there is adventure and danger that comes throughout the tale - it just comes at a slightly more leisurely pace than one might expect. Despite this, though, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I never felt the book dragged. I wanted to read as fast as I could to learn more about these characters and more about the magic and more about their fate and how it would all play out. For the right kind of reader, this book is definitely going to hit all the right notes. I very much enjoyed the time I spent with Ned and Aine and I'm looking forward to more of Barnhill's lovely writing in the future.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.