In the second book of James Nicol’s witchy series he’s achieved that rare thing: he’s created a sequel that’s even better than The Apprentice Witch!
The prose is jovial and flows like a fast-paced river, so much so I didn’t even realise that – on starting to read it – I’d got to page 180 in one sitting. I was thoroughly engrossed in Arianwyn’s latest adventure in Lull.
Now that young witch Arianwyn has graduated to become the “girl with a star” (meaning she is a fully qualified witch), this new story moves her world onwards and ramps up the stakes of the kind of dreadful, dark magic she now has to deal with. The Great Wood is infected with hex, which is creeping towards the town she loves and protects (Lull) and the only way to stop it is if she works with her friends Salle, Colin, Miss Dellafield and the enigmatically light-dark Gimma.
Given a mission by the High Elder, Arianwyn battles the dark hex and many nasty critters and creatures along the way, as she goes in search of a book of magical Glyphs held by the Feyling creatures (including her old blue friend from the first book in this series, Estar). There are struggles, self-enlightenment, action galore and some incredibly tense moments in this story.
One moment that was unbearably tense to read (for which I have to congratulate James and his brilliant writing on achieving), involved a hex-infected stagette. I won’t spoil the scene, but suffice to say: make sure you have enough fingernails to bite down on for this scene as I haven’t read anything quite so dramatic in ages!
Throughout the book, it is clear that the threat from the hex and other dark forces are rising and that A Witch Alone is expanding Arianwyn’s character and the world she lives in. The book deftly takes us on a widening journey, leading to the culmination of Arianwyn discovering she is a much better and more special witch than she believes and that there is a bigger fight coming soon.
I will say I felt the book’s end was a little abrupt, but I guess the reason for this is because book three is coming and Arianwyn and her pals are about to embark on far more adventures (the old adage “keep them wanting more” applying here). Aside from this small point, it was good Arianwyn discovered something mysterious and magical of herself at the end, and that James has managed to return us to Arianwyn’s world effortlessly with A Witch Alone. I felt like I was walking, running, leaping, eating and casting spells around the streets of Lull and in the woods with her as the book jaunted along.
I also loved the fact that, I’ve never read a book – since Alice in Wonderland – that has its characters eat so much cake, and drank so many hot chocolates and cups of tea. It made me feel hungry and cosy and warm inside, helping bring Arianwyn’s world to life even more.