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There is a witch in the woods.  There has always been a witch.

Will you stop fidgeting for once?  My stars!  I have never seen such a fidgety child.

No, sweetheart.  I have not seen her.  No one has.  Not for ages.  We’ve taken steps so that we will never see her.

Terrible steps.

Don’t make me say it.  You already know, anyway.

So begins one of the best novels of the year, and arguably the best fantasy novel.  I only have a minor complaint about this one so I’ll lead with it and then commence with the gushing.  To me, the witch’s sidekicks, the swamp monster and the tiny dragon, while charming aren’t sufficiently developed nor do they serve much of a purpose in the plot.  I’m not sure I would’ve missed either one.

But everything else in this novel worked for me.  The book is well plotted and nicely paced with the central mysteries unraveling even as the characters grow and change.  Likewise, the setting starts off as something simplistic, something out of a folk tale, for example, but becomes increasingly more complex as the world of the novel expands.  The sentence level writing, as evidenced above is lovely, and further evokes the feel of an extended fairy tale or folk tale.  The theme is also very reminiscent of a fairy tale, the triumph of love over fear and despair.  This one is just so well crafted.  Admittedly, fantasy is my favorite genre so it’s easy for me to develop blind spots.  Horn Book is the only journal that didn’t star the book, so I turned to their review to see if I could find something: “Barnhill’s fantasy has a slightly ungainly plot, with backstory, coincidence, insight-dumps, and shifting points of view maneuvering its hinges of logic into place. But in theme and emotion, it is focused: love — familial, maternal, filial, and friendly — is its engine and moral, with Luna’s connections with her adoptive grandmother and unknown birth mother a poignant force.”  Hmmm.  What do you think?




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