Oh, my gooses and ganders, as Mrs Briggs would say - just when you thought nothing could beat Hedgewitch, along comes Woodwitch! Although main character, Cassie Morgan, might still be getting used to witchcraft, author Skye McKenna has certainly mastered her own powers. The village of Hedgely, its inhabitants, the alluring yet sinister Hedge, and everything lurking within it, are vividly brought to life again by writing that can only be described as magical. While Tomislav Tomic's enchanting artwork enriches the narrative beautifully.
If you're not familiar with the first book in the series, Hedgewitch, get hold of a copy immediately. Without a doubt, it's one of the best books I've read in my entire life, for adults or children, and the first in a series of five.
As children's book consultant in Just Books in Mullingar, I've had the pleasure of recommending Hedgewitch to so many parents, teachers and young readers. The feedback we've gotten has been amazing, and it has been so much fun to talk to fellow fans and also introduce them to classic authors that have the same bewitching styles of storytelling.
I had been waiting a whole year for Woodwitch to arrive and I enjoyed it even more than its predecessor. This was partly due to how wonderful it felt to return to the world within its pages, its cobbled streets, curious shops and colourful characters now familiar, with plenty of new people and places for added appeal. There are so many reasons to love this sensational sequel, but here are our top ten:
1. The Bramble & Bloom Tea Room
Skye has a knack for creating fictional places you wish you could visit and this is a new one. Described by Cassie as, 'the perfect spot to read on a rainy day', here you will find 'fat copper kettles with curling spouts, tiny iron kettles decorated with dragonflies, shining steel kettles and a multi-tiered kettle made of green glass, like a tower of bubbles'. You can also sample delights such as lavender and lime-blossom or saffron and sweetbriar tea, served with cream and honey.
2. A new Irish witch
While there are lots of intriguing new characters, it was particularly heartening to meet Irish witch Aoife Early. It was so refreshing to see a fictional Irish character who wasn't stitched together with stereotypes. Aoife felt remarkably real and I loved how I kept guessing about her true motives right up to the end of the story.
3. Cassie and Ivy's relationship
Quite often, the antagonist of a story can be one of its most compelling features. I always enjoy a well-developed villain, especially if they don't know they're a villain. Ivy is magnificent, and we learn more about what's driving her unkind behaviour. As the relationship between Ivy and Cassie grows increasingly complex and hostile, their scenes together become more entertaining and satisfying.
4. Cassie's mother We get to know Rose Morgan better. As a reader, it's so exciting to discover clues about this enigmatic woman and her disappearance, and, along with Cassie, shape the puzzle pieces into a person.
5. The Brollachan One of my favourite things about this book was the introduction of this lively character and the lasting impact they have, as well as Cassie's brave, thoughtful and innovative method for tackling this adversary.
6. The Library
The emergence of the library at Hartwood Hall makes this prime real estate even more enticing. 7. It's so funny
Although frustrating for Cassie, her potion-making and broom-flying disasters are hilarious. I also found how easily offended the faery folk are, and how they avenge those who have slighted them, as well as the tricks they employ to wreak chaos in general, incredibly amusing (cursed teapot anyone?). The prickly Hedgewitch and her interactions with policemen or wayward students are also brilliant and I absolutely love the story of how she caused the Hartwood house-sprite to resign. And, of course, caustic cat Montague delivers many of the best lines.
8. It's perfectly paced
The narrative moves along skilfully, allowing readers to take in all the atmosphere and beauty of the Hedge and Hedgely, without there ever being a dull moment.
9. It promotes empathy and understanding
I love how Cassie attempts to understand those different to her rather than fearing, mistrusting or automatically attacking them, and how her actions encourage readers to do the same.
10. There's much more to come
It's so sad when a beloved book ends but the blow is softened by the knowledge that there are three more titles planned for this series.
Woodwitch is an intoxicating elixir that will leave readers thirsty for more tales from Hedgley. Even though we were sent an advance copy without illustrations, I still bought a copy of the hardback when it released because I wanted to own the 'real' book, and see the intricate artwork by Tomislav Tomic as well. I can't stress enough how special these books are, or how unique it is for a writer to not only make a place feel so real, but to also make readers yearn to be there, and feel like they belong there too.
Congratulations to author Skye McKenna on another spellbinding masterpiece. Thanks so much to Skye and the lovely team at Welbeck for sending us a copy in advance of publication along with some delicious shortbread from Marchpane's too. All opinions expressed are our own.
Read an interview with author Sky McKenna