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.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.***
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.
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.'"