The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol
In this finely-written, creative middle grade novel, we learn about the trials, troubles and triumphs of a not-quite-all-the-way-there witch. Or, as I suppose we could call her, The Apprentice Witch. The main character Arianwyn (beautiful name, by the way), though strong in magic and from a long line of witches, is unable to pass her witch evaluation on first try. However, due to an excessive need for help in the fantasy kingdom in which she lives, she’s still assigned to do work as a spell caster and trouble-shooter in the seemingly quiet and out-of-the-way village of Lull. Well, it’s not as calm there as anyone thinks and Arianwyn is soon broom handle deep in plenty of work--both easy stuff and life-threatening disasters. Along the way she makes a few friends from the human world and also bonds with two surprising characters from the realm of magical beings. With their help, plus her own wits, and a bit of wisdom contained in an ancient book, Arianwyn pushes through all the challenges she faces. Plus, she eventually learns the REAL reason she failed her witch evaluation and it’s not because her power was too weak...

I did enjoy this book, mainly because of the clever, descriptive writing. The one thought I had over and over as I read was that this story would have made a fabulous graphic novel or series of comics. Not only are the characters and scenes superbly ripe for illustration, but the book seems, to me, to mainly unfold in a series of episodes with only a small sense of an overall plot. There’s really nothing bad about this though, since the story is crafted quite well. It’s just that it often jumped along in time and the writer even occasionally used phrases such as “weeks later” or “months passed” in between events without signifying what happened in those time periods.

One particular element I enjoyed the most was the Glyph system where Arianwyn and the other witches in the story draw on nearby magic sources (from natural things like trees or rivers or from ancient, mystical beings or places) and then trace patterns in the air or on the ground to cast spells. There is also a neat Glyph Glossary at the end of the novel to help us readers understand them and their uses.

Overall, I’d say The Apprentice Witch is entirely appropriate and excellently targeted towards its audience of 10-14 yr old eager readers. Girls will be drawn to this story since all the principal characters are females, both young and old. But any reader who enjoys magical fantasy should find fun following Arianwyn’s adventures.

(I received an advanced review copy of this novel by replying to a promotional email sent by the publisher. I have provided an honest review.)