By Karen Cushman
ARC e-book, 224 pages (hardcover)
2016, Clarion Books
ISBN: 9780544301801 (hardcover)
Expected Publication Date: June 7, 2016
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Grayling’s mother is the local wise woman, but when a dark force destroys their cottage and turns her mother into a tree, Grayling must use her wits and knowledge to find her mother’s stolen grimoire and save her mother and the other witches and wise folk who have been cursed. She’s joined by a mischievous mouse, a cantankerous old weather witch, an unreliable enchantress, a cheese soothsayer and a foolish apprentice. The unlikely group of leftovers turned heroes must find the source of darkness and defeat it, else they too might be turned into trees.
At just over 200 pages, this was a quick read, so I don’t have a lot to say about it. But it was cute and I enjoyed the old-world feel the book had. I feel like a lot of the middle grade I read, while magical, is typically set in modern times, so this was a nice change of pace. Grayling makes for an excellent hero – she is reluctant and full of self-doubt at first. However, as time goes on and her companions come to rely on her, she gains confidence and I think it makes for a great learning moment.
This is definitely a character driven novel – they do travel outside and end up in a few towns, but the setting is really just a backdrop. I think this allowed Grayling’s character to shine and develop more, and the secondary characters were also well fleshed out, despite the low page count. (Sidenote: One of the things I love about most middle grade is that the authors accomplish so much with a typically lower page count.) I liked that Cushman differentiated between different types of magic users, like enchantresses, wizards, witches, soothsayers, etc. and the implication that they all work magic differently and possess different powers. Grayling’s own magic is focused around song, which was a fun element.
This book didn’t blow me away, but it was a very enjoyable read and well worth what little time it takes to read. I’d recommend for any lovers of magical (medieval) middle grade.