A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

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Published by Simon & Schuster, 2019.

This is a corker of a book! It’s got it all: adventure, mystery, magic and danger. Plus the Widdershins sisters – three of the best MG protagonists in years.

Betty (13), Fliss (16) and Charlie (6) live with their granny at the Poacher’s Pocket, a rundown village inn that has definitely seen better days. It’s on the small, and seemingly unremarkable, island of Crowstone. Betty is desperate to leave. She feels trapped on the island and is thirsty for adventure, which she thinks she’ll find beyond the confines of Crowstone and its neighbouring three islands. These three islands, known collectively as the Sorrow Isles, are still part of Crowstone but separated from it by the Misty Marshes. The nearest of the three is the island of Repent where the prison stands, its tall tower looming menacingly. Beyond that lie the island of Lament, where all of Crowstone’s dead are buried, and the island of Torment for those who have been banished. Crowstone and the Sorrow Isles are all the Widdershins sisters have ever known. They’ve never ventured further afield.

It’s Halloween and Betty sees her chance for adventure. She takes Charlie out to go trick or treating but this is merely a ruse. She has plans to travel to the fairground at nearby Marshfoot. After knocking on a couple of doors in their fancy dress, the two sisters head for the ferry. Betty is clutching the ticket money that she’s been secretly saving for weeks. The girls are full of excitement but, as the fog rolls in and the ferry lurches on the water, this soon gives way to terror. Suddenly Granny appears out of the haze, the ferryman returns the boat to shore and the girls are whisked home.

It’s then that they discover the terrible family curse. No Widdershins female can ever leave Crowstone. If they do, they’ll be dead by the next sunset. The curse has plagued their family for generations and no-one has been able to break it. As well as news of the deadly curse, Granny tells the sisters about three magical objects that have been passed down from generation to generation: a pocket mirror, a set of nesting dolls and an old carpet bag. Fliss has already been given the mirror. Betty will inherit the dolls and Charlie, the bag. The girls are devastated by the implications of the curse. Characteristically, Betty refuses to accept her fate and, despite promising otherwise, resolves to break the curse. And so the adventure begins.

Betty and Fliss learn of Colton, a mysterious stranger imprisoned on Repent who claims to know how to break the curse. Can the sisters trust him? Do they have any other choice? He offers to tell them how to break the curse in return for his freedom. Before long, the sinister curse has been triggered and Betty is in a race against time to save her sisters…

Interwoven with Betty and her sisters’ story is another fascinating tale – that of Sorsha Spellthorn, a young woman who was imprisoned in the tower 150 years earlier for sorcery. In tantalising instalments we learn the truth about Sorsha.

I loved the exploration of sisterhood; the Widdershins sisters’ solidarity, their fierce loyalty and their love for each other are powerful forces which drive the narrative and empower each of the girls. Their relationship is neatly contrasted with the dynamic between Sorsha and her sister Prue.

Another of the book’s strong themes is that of otherness and difference and how fear of ‘the other’ leads to prejudice and hatred. I think this is of particular relevance in today’s world.

A further aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the otherworldliness of the setting. It’s unclear exactly what time period it’s set in; it doesn’t feel contemporary and I liked that historical dimension. The unfamiliar currency also adds to the mystery as does the eerie, remote setting and the swirling mist and fog.

The stunning cover art is by the fabulous Melissa Castrillón and it brilliantly incorporates all the key elements of the story in Melissa’s trademark eye-catching style. There’s some gorgeous gold foil and embossing too.

A Pinch of Magic is incredibly exciting and packed with tension, especially as the story reaches its climax. There are twists and turns and things definitely don’t go to plan. It’s nail-biting! The sisters, Betty in particular, are brave and resourceful and you’ll love being part of their world. I’m already looking forward to joining them on their next adventure – there are more on the way!

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me this book to review.

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