A dark tale, with even darker yet colourful characters.
Weaving fact and fiction offering spectacular twists.
Witchborn is the debut novel by Nicholas Bowling, published by Chicken House, out in November 2017. It’s been a while since I’ve read middle grade historical fiction and Witchborn, rated 12+, is as beautifully crafted as its cover. The spectacular illustration, by Erica Williams, sets the tone of this macabre Elizabethan cat and mouse adventure, offering an earthy adaptation of witchcraft; the herbalists of their time with a tendency to dabble in the Other Side aka George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones white walker style.
Drawn in with dramatic opening
Set in 1577, the story opens with young Alyce being hunted by witchfinders when she stabs her attacker, Hopkins. Her mother, before being burnt at the stake, curses Hopkin’s accomplice, Caxton, who becomes the most deliciously terrifying masked figure throughout. Hopkins, revived from the dead, begins to hunt his nemesis and Alyce has to cling on to life to escape him and his creator.
Colourful characters and a hint of romance
Alyce meets some vibrant characters as she follows her mother’s final instructions to go to London and deliver her letter to a hangman. My favourite has to be Vitali, the handsome, well heeled charlatan who peddles his phoney potions through theatrical street performances. But, after finding her in a ditch and carrying her to safety, it is Solomon (the thespian boy), who becomes her friend and wins her heart.
Children can experience the past real time
The voyage of self discovery Alyce sails on unleashes her true magical powers that tip the balance of politics as well as the living and the dead. It involves some prominent historical figures too. Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots feature and so too does their documented, tormented relationship. I love the way true history is woven with Nicholas Bowling’s fiction offering spectacular twists; historical fiction is an intriguing way for children to learn about the past and feel like they’re experiencing it real time. Nicholas Bowling fully immerses us in Elizabethan London, with its cobbled streets, dingy taverns and suspicious smells.
Personally, I would have liked to delve deeper into the romance between Alyce and Solomon particularly with its importance in her choices at the end, but it is a tricky balance in this age group.
With the autumnal cover, Witchborn is perfect served with a cup of hot chocolate and a few marshmallows. Ahhhhh.