Some books beg to be compared to food because they are so comforting or satisfying. Other books beg to be compared to something bigger, like a season. The Witch’s Boy is that kind of book I think it is best compared to winter, and it is winter at its finest. Why? Winter takes a world we think we know and transforms it with wind, snow, cold and ice into something completely different, and amazing. The Witch’s Boy does the same thing. It takes a simple story and transforms it into something epic.
The story seems simple. It’s this: Magic is a living thing that must be possessed to be used. Those who brought it into this world fell victim to it and were imprisoned in giant stones. They wait for someone to use the magic to free them, but whoever does will die. All but one who possessed the magic has fallen victim to it. She has passed it down in her family.
Sister Witch possesses the magic now and keeps it in a clay pot. She uses it only for good until the day her twin sons go out on a raft and have an accident. Only one son survives, and she uses the magic to sew the soul of the dead brother into the living one. Using magic this way has a price. The boy named Ned cannot read or speak, and everyone begins to say the wrong boy was saved.
Beyond the forest is a girl name Aine who has just lost her mother. Her mother’s last words were something about how the wrong boy would save her. Her father is a bandit and wears a magical pendant that is corrupting him. He sets out to get Sister Witch’s magic.
Ned will not give the magic to the bandit. He takes it into himself and soon learns how powerful it is. He is tempted to use it for something other than good but eventually learns how to command it. Ned and Aine must work together to keep the magic away from everyone and return it to the ones it must free. Ned turns out is not the wrong boy, but the right one, because he alone chooses to use the magic to free those in the stones knowing it might kill him. He does not die of course because he has his brother’s soul inside of him, and that soul is released.
The story seems simple but it is not. Ms. Barnhill’s writing is exceptional. The world created so vivid and the characters so engaging, one cannot help but be drawn in and not want to leave. Simple becomes amazing when layers and layers are added until the simple story is transformed, not unlike how winter’s snow and ice transform our known landscapes into something different and beautiful. The Witch’s Boy is absolutely a must read.