A Witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton
Published by Hodder Childrens Books
4.5 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback (also available in audiobook & ebook)
Anyone that reads my reviews knows I dislike fairies with a passion, but few will know I feel the same about witch and wicca stories. Good ones are just so few and far between. They rely on cliches and stereotypes (minus the warty noses thank goodness) and I’d yet to find a compelling new take on the witch story. So it was with trepidation that I started A Witch in Winter (AWIW)
AWIW is told from the POV of Anna Winterton, a London teen who has moved to a little village (Winter) on the south coast. Winter is fictional but from the descriptions I suspect it was placed around lewes, plymouth etc. Little is said about Anna’s mother, other than she disappeared when she was young. Anna’s father had a nervous breakdown following being fired and so bought a run down cottage on the outskirts of the village, in an attempt to start again. The book begins as Anna and her father arrive in Winter, and as Anna begins school at the local comp. Anna soon makes friends (and spots a cute, but taken boy – Seth) and they share with her stories about her cottage, nicknamed Witch’s Cottage and the villages long wiccan-related history. When Anna’s father finds a spell book it seems only fitting that the girls perform some of the spells – love ones of course. None of them believe that they are ACTUALLY conducting magic, its all a bit of fun, and when the other girls objects of affection are no different, they all laugh and move on. All except Anna, suddenly Seth has dumped his girlfriend and is starting to obsess about her and confesses his love for her. Still Anna thinks its a joke, a game. But just incase she tries a few counter-spells from the book. Nothing changes. Anna is then introduced to some local witches, mad at her for her spell on Seth. Anna discovers she’s a witch (of course) and with the help of her new friends tries to un-enchant Seth. Along the way there are a few enemies made, and a governing body of witches who want to get to know Anna better – whether she wants to or not.
As I said, I don’t like witch stories, but AWIW won me over. Its a charming tale, with a great twist on the usual girl meets boy stories. By casting the love spell, Anna will never know if Seth truly cares for her or whether she forced his hand. The magic in the book was more believable than most, Warburton’s description of the power within Anna is fascinating and her writing brings a wonderful visual to the reader.
The only part of the story that worried me was the Twilight-eque plot (no, not vampires) but the ‘evil’ council vs the small coven, who call thier friends to arms to watch the injustice (I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling the plot), it was all very breaking dawn which distracted me slightly. Whilst Meyer doesn’t have the monopoly on such a plot, it is the first thing that springs to mind, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to think so.
As other reviewers have pointed out, its lovely to have a YA book set in the UK. They are few and far between, so AWIW was a refreshing change. I loved the way that Warburton wrote the characters, not just Anna, but all of them. The teens were TEENS, no pretence for the sake of writing, they drink when until they’re sick, they smoke they might just talk about SEX, there’s even a tattoo snuck in there :O , As I said, they are true teens. Anna’s dad is normal too, he worries, he doesn’t really know how to relate to a teenage daughter, and he’s keeping secrets. There is definitely more to find out about Anna’s mother, and I suspect the only one to know is her dad but he’s not ready to talk, all interesting fodder for book 2.
I really did love the book, it hasn’t sold me on witch stories, but its sold me on Warburtons writing, any future wicca story is going to have a high standard to beat. Yes there is the twilight bit that was a little annoying, but thats a few pages in an otherwise brilliant book, its all good vs evil, love and magic but thats what YA readers generally want, if we wanted something hard hitting, soul searching and generally depressing, we’d look for something outside of the genre.
Roll on book 2 (I’m off to buy it now!)