The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Holy smokes! This book sucked me in like a whirlwind. I resented each intrusion by my everyday life until it was finished. 

It is the story of two children, Ned and Áine, who are connected by their families' use of magic. Magic is a character in the story. It is wiley and seductive, promising the user his/her heart's desire, all the while working to satisfy its own agenda. 

Sister Witch, mother to twins, Ned and Tam, is burdened with the task of keeping this magic good. She has been told it shouldn't be used for personal gain. When Ned and Tam were seven, they set off on an adventure that culminated in disaster and Tam drowned. In an effort to save Ned, Sister Witch called upon the magic to bind their souls together. Ned was left alive but damaged. Except for this one exception, she has kept the magic harnessed and used it only to heal and protect her people. 

When Áine's mother died, her father took them deep into the forest where he returned to being a bandit and took up wearing a stone amulet. The amulet was infused with magic, enough to give him a taste of what was possible if only he had more. At the same time, it twisted his heart with an evil greed for power and wealth. He managed to acquire a following of bandits prepared to go where ever he led them. Áine hoped to find a way to save her father.

Áine's father and his bandits came to Ned's town to take his family's magic and deliver it to the king of a neighbouring kingdom. At least that is what the bandit leader claimed. Ned attempted to thwart them by taking the Magic into himself, but the bandits abducted him and set off through the forest to give him to King Ott.  

Ned managed to escape the bandits and befriended a wolf cub. The two were eventually rescued by Áine. Then the three of them set out on a quest to flee the forest and elude Áine's father's men. However, stronger, more ancient forces, compelled the children towards themselves. 

This is a beautifully written fairytale. It's infused with an ambiance of otherworldliness and reality that as a reader, I couldn't quite make sense of, but wasn't prepared to let go of either. You know those stories where you can't help but ponder how authors come up with these ideas? This is one of them. 

Since I took a course with Jack Zipes a number of years ago, I'm incapable of reading anything as just a fairytale. I'm always looking for hidden messages and secrets revealed to us about ourselves and our culture. I'm still trying to figure this book out. Here is what I've come up with so far. 

This book tells us about power and its capacity to hurt and corrupt the wielder of it.
It is a book that reveals an emptiness that can never be filled or satisfied, and how this emptiness can turn into a greed that rots one's soul. 
We see how individuals can be manipulated by a charismatic leader into doing evil. We also see how good people can see beyond the evil of someone in power, and refuse to follow their instructions. 
The story shows us the pain of loss and how difficult, if not impossible, it is to return to normal after it. 
We are reminded that every action has it's consequences, no matter how well intentioned.  
It warns us to listen carefully, not just to promises made by others, but to ourselves as well. 
 "You have friends coming, and friends inside you too. But be carefull."
"Of What:" Ned asked the empty darkness.
"The Things that lie." P 154

I'll be contemplating this book for a while I think. 

I will most definitely read more by Kelly Barnhill! 

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