The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol


A truly magical story that will grip readers from the very first line.

Arianwyn is about to take her all-important witch’s assessment. Ignoring the taunts of her classmates, led by the beautiful and mean Gimma, Arianwyn looks set to pass until the test begins and her vision is blurred by a mysterious unknown glyph (the symbols used to control magic.) To her great humiliation, Arianwyn fails the evaluation. She is labelled an ‘Apprentice Witch’ and sent to the remote town of Lull in disgrace. Things don’t get off to the best of starts there and the situation is made worse when Gimma arrives on holiday. Arianwyn is not happy but soon she has bigger problems. The townspeople have spotted a strange dark creature and, when a child is attacked, Arianwyn finds everyone is looking to her to prevent others getting hurt.

This story gripped me from the very first line when we meet Arianwyn reading the recruitment poster for witches. The poster’s slogan – Your country needs you! Join up TODAY! – really made me smile. While the book’s target readers may not make the connection with the World War recruitment poster, they will immediately identify with Arianwyn. Readers will easily understand Arianwyn’s discomfort as she has to face both the all-important witch’s assessment and the taunts from fellow apprentice witch – the cruel and snobbish Gimma.

As the story progresses our empathy for, and connection to, Arianwyn deepens as she struggles in her new assignment. The more mistakes she makes the more we seem to like her, partly because we know her intentions are good and partly because we have already guessed there is more to Arianwyn than initial experience suggests.

As a reader we’re not surprised when Gimma turns up in Lull (the Mayor is her uncle) but this is what keeps us reading. We know this is not a good sign and we read on to find out what form these problems will take. Luckily Arianwyn has good friends in local girl, Salle, and the feyling creature, Estar. However, undoubtedly stealing the top position on the ‘good friends list’ is the moon hare. Once this book is released, I’m pretty confident everyone is going to want a pet moon hare. I know I certainly do.

The plot moves along at a steady pace that gives the reader just enough time to enjoy the magical details that debut author, James Nicol, has seamlessly woven into the story. For example, I particularly loved the scene where Arianwyn tackles the snotlings in Mrs Myddleton’s house. The pace, however, quickens dramatically as we reach the cinematic climax when the book becomes impossible to put down.

2016 looks like it is going to be a good year for Chicken House debuts. If you enjoyed this, you should check out a very similar and equally magical story in Beetle Boy by M G Leonard. Alternatively ‘The Apprentice Witch’ has a very similar feel and tone to another Chicken House series, this time set in the Knight’s Haddon boarding school: start with The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr.

ISBN: 978-1910655153
Publication Date: July 2016
Publisher: Chicken House
Author: James Nicol
Madge's 4.5/5 Star Review Rating

Review first published on The Bookbag

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