Updated: Mar 23, 2018
BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: A Witch Alone
Author: James Nicol
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: March 2018
Suitable For: Years 3-6
Following on from the much-loved ‘The Apprentice Witch’, James Nicol returns with the second story in the series. The magical world of ‘A Witch Alone’ is an immersive one that balances all different kinds of magic, from the dark and dangerous kind lurking in the woods to the warm and wonderful kind where compassion resides and a tea and cake can solve everything.
The story sees the return of Arianwyn, a newly-qualified witch who needs to find courage and self-belief as she seeks to work her magic to help those around her. Somewhat thrown in at the deep-end, Arianwyn returns to the town of Lull as the resident witch and is immediately kept busy by the demands of the
townspeople, whether it’s removing bogglins from farmers’ fields or dealing with infestations of
tamble-rats and nesting snotlings. However, there are much bigger fish to fry, as the High Elder has set Arianwyn a secret magical mission that will require courage, perseverance and skill. And alongside it all there’s the small matter of Arianwyn’s old rival Gimma making an appearance and acting very strangely indeed.
What I loved was how relatable the character of Arianwyn is. She has a pressing case of imposter syndrome, to which most of us can readily relate, as she battles with the weight of responsibility given to her as a qualified witch and she really has to dig deep in order to uncover enough self-belief to follow her convictions and see her mission through. I also really liked how the magical world that James Nicol has created turns on its head the usual order of things that you find in stories that mix magical and non-magical folk. There is a realm in which magic is normalised and the whole population seems to share a common understanding of the place of magic in society and a desire to use it for communal good. However, humans that are able to use magic exist in a respected minority and they tend to fill the role of public servants, with Arianwyn’s demanding
work as the resident witch being reminiscent of a village GP serving his or her community at all hours of day and night. I also like that in this world the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are not over-simplified or unnecessarily polarised and Arianwyn finds herself facing some moral dilemmas with no comfortable or easy answers.
James Nicol’s style of storytelling is cosy and compelling. There is always enough danger and mystery to give the magical world depth and drive the plot, but never so much that it becomes threatening to the young reader. The ending of the story sets the plot up well for the third instalment of the series. I recommend ‘A Witch Alone’ to readers across Key Stage 2, especially those who enjoy magical worlds that mix with the very human themes of courage, friendship and self-belief.
Also features on:
Thank you to the publisher for kindly providing a review copy of this text.