Sunday, May 31, 2009

Well Witched

Three friends are stranded in a town where they did not have permission to go. They have missed the bus, and their return tickets won't work on the other bus line. But of course Josh - the leader of the trio, the one with all the ideas, the one that Ryan and Chelle feel almost pathetically grateful to be friends with - Josh comes up with an idea. He leads them to an old, overgrown well, climbs down it, and emerges with a fistful of coins. The money is tarnished and moldy, but it serves its purpose and gets them back home.

All's well that ends well - or so the three friends believe. But then very strange things start happening. Ryan, from whose point of view the story is told, has strange visions and experiences. Chelle phones him in a panic, saying that she has been talking incessantly, but the words are not her own. And Josh is having a strange effect on anything electrical around him. Soon it becomes clear that their theft of the coins has robbed the well of more than money: it has robbed the spirit of the well of the wishes it was supposed to grant. The children must now find a way to grant the wishes, or, it appears, the consequences will be dire.

Granting wishes isn't as easy as it might seem. The children discover that when people make a wish, their real wish tends to be hidden inside it - it is not usually expressed outright in their wish. For example, the wish for a Harley Davidson might actually be a wish to be a different sort of person altogether, the kind of cool, tough person who would own such a bike. What happens if granting the wish as it was expressed actually prevents the actual wish from coming true? Or, what if it makes everything worse? The well grants the children powers to help them in their mission, but soon things start going terribly out of control.

This book surprised me in several ways. First of all, I was not expecting it to have such depth and complexity. It is a supernatural story, and it is fun and exciting, but it does not simply skim the surface as many such children's stories do. It takes a forceful look at friendship, family relationships and divorce. It is dark and scary, leavened by humor in places, with well-realized characters.

I was also surprised by the author's style. Hardinge has a way of expressing herself that is whimsical yet evocative. Here are just two of the many passages that made me stop, smile, and reread:
Mrs. Lattimer-Stone did not sound particularly glad, or particularly anything. Her voice was pleasant and husky yet without any rises or falls. She never smiled. Sometimes she drew her mouth in and narrowed her eyes to show that she was thinking a smile.

***

Ryan had not noticed on his last visit what a sad town Ebstowe was. Apparently it had been very popular about a hundred years before. The big sweeping promenade along the seafront looked a bit lost, as if it was wondering where the women with big hats and white parasols had gone. Now that the pocked, brightly colored plastic towers of the funfair came into view, Ryan thought it seemed very strange next to the rest of Ebstowe, strange and wrong. It was as if somebody had found a gentle, dignified old lady whose friends were all dead and forced her to wear a funny hat.
This was a thought-provoking, exciting and unusually complex novel, the first one I've read by Hardinge. I've heard great things about her first book, Fly by Night, and I will certainly be reading that one soon.

Well Witched (UK title: Verdigris Deep) by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Book Bits: "This is an original paranormal story that pulls you in right from the start. What I like best about Well Witched are the characters, and their growth throughout the book."
In the Booley House: "...it gets dark and complex and very good. The emotional issues are rich and compelling, and nicely balanced by the action."
Shermeree's Musings: "I didn't really like the characters at first, but I started cheering for most of them about halfway through. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you turning the page to find out what happens next."
Valentina's Room: "The best definition for it would be 'supernatural thriller for children, with a hint of horror in the mix.'"

18 comments:

  1. Haven't heard of this author, but I love the quotes. Like you say, there is a whimsical feel to her writing. I like it.

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  2. Love these quotes! Oh, dear, I know I'm going to buy this if I see it at a shop in London... I must stop buying books!!!

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  3. What a great concept. I love the prose in the quotes, too. I'll see if I can find this one...

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  4. Ooooooooooo!! Just the cover itself made my eyes go wide! @_@ *sparkle* I want this book.

    I think I'm going to have to change the tag line on my book blog to something like "It's all Darla's fault". HA!

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  5. Two more things:

    1) HARDCOVER! BAH!

    2) The paperback is due out in September 2009. What I find amusing is that on amazon.ca when you search for the title you are told the HC version is for ages 9-12 the PB is for ages 4-8!! I guess the HC is too heavy for those 4-8 year olds to hold? Hee!

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  6. Booklogged - There were many more passages I could have chosen, but these were the ones that involved absolutely no spoilers. :-)

    Jenny - Make sure you look for it under the UK title, Verdigris Deep. Hope you like it!

    Kiirstin - I loved the way she wrote, and I'm hoping to find more of the same in her other books. I'll let you know!

    Cat - Haha! I love it. :-)
    I imagine you have enough books to last you till September (if not, I have a few recomendations...) Teehee.
    That's funny about the age difference! I would definitely recommend this for older children - it's a bit too sophisticated and dark for most kids under ten, I think.

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  7. If I ever need my YA fix, I always know where to go to find good recommendations: Here!! Personally, I don't think I ever would have picked up this book without your review. But now, I definitely will !

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  8. Depth, complexity AND fun? I want!

    Sigh, why must you insist on reading such awesome sounding books, Darla? :P

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  9. Thanks, Stephanie - I hope you enjoy it! I start feeling all responsible when people pick up a book based solely on my recommendation. But still, I do think you'll like it!

    Nymeth - Turnabout is fair play, you know. I can't begin to calculate your percentage of responsibility for my embarrassing tower of TBRs! :-)

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  10. Loved this book. But I've had trouble figuring out who to give it to - most of the kids I know who I think would like it would be scared silly by it. Hopefully the perfect reader will come along!

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  11. Biblauragrahy - I agree! This is definitely for the older kids, also because of the exploration of the darker side of friendship, which I think younger readers really wouldn't understand. (Plus of course the scary bits that you mention!)

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  12. Sounds SO cute! I would have adored this as a kid but I still want to read it as an adult too.

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  13. This sounds really good! Your review makes me think of Graveyard Book, the way its a kids book but also has a complexity to the issues presented. Thanks for the wonderful review, I will definitely check this out :)

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  14. Ladytink - It is good, and I suppose I should have mentioned how poignant the ending is. Not at all what I expected. This is definitely one of those books that is equally appealing to kids and adults.

    Joanne - I hadn't thought of The Graveyard Book while I was reading this, but I think you are right. The characters - even the "bad guys" - have a lot of depth, and there is just a whole lot there. Although of the two, I think I'd be more likely to reread The Graveyard Book, even though I enjoyed this one a lot.

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  15. This looks good. I will have to go see if the library has it.

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  16. Kailana - I hope you can find it. I'll be interesed to hear what you think!

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  17. Arghhh they changed the title again!

    I'm so glad you liked this! I was surprised by it too. By the language, by how it dealt with the consequences of the kids actions, but how deliciously creepy it was!
    you can read my review here:
    http://valentinasroom.blogspot.com/2007/06/verdigris-deep-frances-hardinge.html

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  18. Valentina - I prefer the UK title. Why do they do these title changes? It is odd and makes for a lot of confusion. I didn't even think to check for reviews under the other title, so thanks for your link - I'll add it to my review. I'm glad you enjoyed the same things about it I did! :-)

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