Well Witched

I tend to read a wide variety of books, including fantasy and science fiction.  And that means that I have gravitated towards YA reading much, much more than I did, say, five years ago, because quite simply, some of the best fantasy out there is coming out in YA.  The label “young adult” or even “middle grade” can be confusing for people who don’t remember what they read when they were in middle grades, and were young adults.  The label doesn’t mean that the themes are dumbed down or that the books are less carefully crafted.  Often it means that the genres are harder to peg–where would you have placed Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” in the adult world?  Literary fiction? Historical fiction?  But then there is that paranormal element, too, since it’s narrated by death.

In short, I love young adult books to death, and I’ve read more great fantasy and science fiction in YA in recent years than I have in the regular old adult sections.

Over the weekend, on a whim I picked up a copy of Frances Hardinge’s Well Witched.  I’d read her first novel, “Fly by Night” many many years ago.  I don’t even think I bought it myself.  As I recall, it was a gift from a friend who personally the author, who also knew that I was a Harry Potter fanatic and thought I might like it.  In retrospect, now that I am an author myself, I suspect my friend hoped I would become as fanatical about Hardinge as I was about Rowling, and I’m sure that my lackluster response was probably disappointing.  I read it.  It was fun.  I thought it was a decent first try.  I didn’t love it, though–I thought the main character was a little flat and the world building a little dry–and I promptly forgot about the author.  I’m not even sure why I picked up this book (which has the much cooler title of “Verdigris Deep” in the UK but apparently that’s too inaccessible for us slobs in the US audience?), except that I was itching for a fantasy and my local Borders didn’t have “Inkheart” in stock. (A tale for another day–HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE, BORDERS?)

Several hours later, I emerged, blinking, into the light.  Well Witched is everything I love in a book.  It’s fraught with moral ambiguity.  The villains  are never identifiable.  The plot construction is tight.  There is character growth both subtle and deep.  Oh, and the main character has tiny eyes that grow on the back of his hand.

There is no romance in the book, but it has the thing I love best about romance:  A boy who learns to appreciate things he’d never seen about the people he loves, who not only grows literal eyes, but learns to see figuratively deeper.

I adore the fact that ten year olds will read this book, and I hope that adults will, too.

4 thoughts on “Well Witched

  1. Hmm, haven’t read that one. I’m really getting into young adult books right now and in fact working on one of my own! I just judged a ya category for a contest and the entries were great.

    oh! one ya i just read, its not scifi or fantasty, but was super cute is called Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman. I really enjoyed it.

  2. I’ll have to look into that, Lori. Some days I play with a YA that I have an idea for but right now I’m really just focusing on finishing my second book in this contract.

    And if you judged the same contest I did, there were some GREAT YA submissions there. There were two that I read that I just HAD to read immediately, and none were truly painful.

  3. I love YA. I’ve been reading YA for years (well, perhaps I just never stopped), for both professional and personal reasons. I also hope to someday write a YA novel or two myself. And I agree, that’s where some of the most exciting writing is happening nowadays. In a YA novel, an author has to write tightly, cleanly, authentically – no bloated, self-important, fancy-pants prose allowed!

    But I haven’t read any for a few months, and I really must remedy that. Haven’t even gotten to Twilight yet – I know, I know, I’m the last person on earth.

  4. I’m so glad you gave this author another chance. People grow so much in themselves and in their writing. When I look at what I wrote when I was twenty compared to today I go “OMG”.

    DW Golden
    Soar with Fairies in Purple Butterflies, a new young adult novel now available at Amazon.com

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