THE LOST WITCH
By Melvin Burgess
Published by Andersen Press
ISBN 978 1 78344 690 2
Melvin Burgess is one of the founding fathers of the modern YA novel. He published his first YA novel, The Cry of the Wolf, in 1990. This prize-winning and challenging writer has been keeping a low profile during the past few years, but now he is back with a gritty story of magic and evil deeds in a dark tale of a teenager facing a very uncertain future as a modern witch.
Potential readers need to be aware this is not a story of witches with pointy hats and broomsticks throwing about spells and brewing up potions as their cat sleeps in front of the fire. The witches here are earthy and unsettling, and the force hunting them down is a wicked organisation with a terrifying agenda. The Lost Witch is not a cosy read.
Teenager Bea and her family are in the car on the way home from a holiday when they are forced to stop as a mob of hunters chasing three frightened hares emerges out of nowhere. When Bea winds down the window, one of the animals jumps into the car and onto her lap.
That is obviously weird, but everything about the incident is strange. Who are these hunters? As the hare snuggles into Bea’s lap, she feels an odd sensation passing from the animal into her mind and body.
Suddenly, Bea screams out an incantation that brings other animals onto the scene to drive the hunters away. She doesn’t understand what she is doing, or where these words are coming from. When they have recovered from what happened, the family, shaken and scared, continues home in silence.
The incident with the hare and the hunters has deeply unsettled Bea. She starts to hear voices and see visions, but things begin to fall into place when she meets a young girl called Silvis in her village.
Silvis explains to Bea that she is a witch, and that she is now in danger. The hunt that materialised that day is a group of criminals pursuing witches to steal their magical powers.
What follows after this reveal is one of the most bizarre stories of witchcraft ever to feature in a YA novel. Burgess throws everything into the mix: shape-shifting, body hijacking, monsters, a hospital that isn’t quite what it should be, and an ever-so-slightly twisted romance just for good measure.
Burgess is an experienced novelist, and he manages to keep all the elements of The Lost Witch under control where a lesser writer might have allowed it to all spin off the page.
Burgess knows how to mix gritty realism and fantasy, and how to keep readers on his side. But, at times, his new novel is a very odd read. This is definitely for readers who are looking for something different and who will not ask too many questions.
John Millen can be contacted at [email protected]il.com