A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it’s Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.
In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?
The Witch’s Boy was a beautifully written and constructed story that was easy to lose yourself in. From the very first chapter Barnhill’s writing pulled me in. The pacing felt balanced and the story unfolded at a comfortable rate. The world building was beautifully and imaginatively done. It was easy to picture this world and its inhabitants. The idea that two civilizations could be separated by a spooky forest and one be completely unaware of the other was such a fun concept. I loved that as the story progressed we learned about the past and how magic was confined to one single jar and what provoked the two peoples to be separated in the first place.
The characters in this were so wonderfully done- I immediately connected with Ned, Aine, the Witch, and the wolf. Ned was so incredibly lovable and sweet that he was impossible not to empathize with and root for. The prologue sets the stage for the entire story giving us a glimpse into the mind of Ned’s mother, the witch. I found her to be a really complex character though she wasn’t present all that much in the novel. I absolutely loved the approach Barnhill had with the magic and how she gave it a voice (s) in the book. I thought that was done perfectly and allowed for the magic to be its own character really.
I had a slightly more difficult time relating to Aine in the very beginning since she seemed so closed off and hardened by her past (for good reason). I felt that of all the characters her growth was the most enjoyable for me. I loved the details given to the other characters. No one was forgotten and the fact that Barnhill had me connecting to a bunch of magic rocks was impressive indeed. My favorite character had to be the wolf. I always love an animal companion so I was thrilled to see the part the wolf played in this story.
The Witch’s Boy was a beautifully constructed fantasy tale that was able to connect me to the characters and the world throughout the book’s entirety. I felt that Barnhill utilized some of the basic fairy tale tropes but was able to put her own unique spin on them to create a fresh and inviting story.