Review of the Day: Witch Catcher
I'm a little exhausted after the measely four or five reviews I wrote for the 48-Hour Book Challenge. Those puppies take a good 45 minutes to write! In any case, here's my normal review of the day. Nothing fancy schmancy.
There are some authors that I associate directly with my own childhood. E.B. White. C.S. Lewis. Shel Silverstein. By and large these authors have two things in common. They wrote for children and they are dead. One particular author from my childhood, however, bears only a single similarity to those I’ve already mentioned. Certainly she writes for children, but she is definitely not dead. Not even close. I remember well, “Wait Till Helen Comes”, which remains one of the best-written children’s ghost stories out there today. Imagine my delight then when I found that not only is Hahn still writing, but she’s still churning out some fairly interesting fare. “Witch Catcher” takes some of Hahn’s old stand-bys (not being able to trust your own family members, rare friendships, etc.) and reworks them into something new. Plus there are fairies. Lots of ‘em.
If your father’s spooky old uncle died and left him a gigantic mansion full of beautiful antiques, you’d be thrilled right? Jen certainly is. Not only does she get to live in a kind of West Virginian castle, but there are lots of things to discover. For example, behind the house is a kind of free-standing tower. Despite her dad’s warnings to keep away from it, Jen sets about exploring and finds a beautiful iridescent bottle the size of a softball hanging from the ceiling. This domestic happiness is short lived, however, particularly when Jen’s dad starts dating an overly sophisticated antiques dealer by the name of Moura. Moura is fascinated with the contents of their uncle’s home, but her real goal is to find something she calls a “witch catcher”. A witch catcher that sounds suspiciously similar to the sparkly glass thing Jen already discovered. When the object breaks by accident, Jen suddenly finds herself enmeshed in the trials of a girl by the name of Kieryn who is the daughter of the fairy queen and has been trapped by Moura, a witch. Together the two must free the rest of Kieryn’s fairy kin, break the love spell between Moura and Jen’s father, and trap the witches threatening the fairy land.
The book includes yet another girl with a dead mother living with her devoted father. My mother-in-law once pointed out to me how prolific this particular genre story is. Heck, Disney practically built its empire on it! So I was a little disappointed to see that Hahn had written yet another story with that particular type of family. There are some loose ends left hanging after it comes to a close too. At one point one of the bad guys buys a painting of Kieryn the fairy girl, and we're left to wonder what sinister plans he has for it. I would have loved to have gotten some more information but Hahn isn’t particularly interested in following that line of thought. Just the same, she gets down the wild nature of fairies fairly well. Even after Jen has helped them all escape a fate worse than death, it becomes crystal clear that despite her aid, the fairies still may have sinister plans in store for her.
In a little Author’s Note at the end, Hahn says that the impetus for this novel came when she discovered real witch catchers at a craft fair about fifteen years ago. Enchanted by the story behind them she bought one, hung it in her window, and then set about coming up with a story worthy of such an interesting object. The book is being promoted as “Ms. Hahn’s first fantasy novel”, which is downright bizarre. Ghost stories aren’t fantasy? What are they then? Fact?
Fairy stories abound in children’s libraries. This particular book, however, doesn’t really go into the logistics of their ways. This belongs far more to the genii in the bottle type stories than intensive peerings into fairy lore. As it goes, this particular book will certainly be much beloved by those kids who enjoyed “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and stories like Katharine Langrish’s, “Troll Fell”. It wasn’t the most original work of fantasy I ever encountered but it proceeds at a fast clip, has just the right balance of good characters vs. evil ones, and contains a swell plot to boot. Not an outstanding work in its field, but a nice tale all the same.
On shelves July 24th.