Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna
14th April 2022, Welbeck Kids
I was so reluctant to leave the world evoked by Skye McKenna in Hedgewitch that I started reading this book again immediately after finishing it! This is something I hadn't done since I was a child. And Hedgewitch reminds me of the books I loved when I was younger, particularly Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, which I regularly borrowed from my local library. As I turned the pages of Hedgewitch for the first time, it felt like being reunited with an old friend.
Cassie Morgan has been living in an austere boarding school, Fowell House, ever since her mother left her there before vanishing, seven years ago. When her horrible headmistress announces that Cassie is being sent to an orphanage, Cassie decides to run away. But with no friends and relatives, where can she go?
Luckily, Cassie is not as alone as she thinks. She finds herself in Hedgely, a charming village named after the nearby Hedge, which forms a border to the land of Faerie. The human world is protected from all that lies beyond and within the Hedge by the Hedgewitch and her wardens, an elite network of highly-trained witches.
After Cassie arrives in Hedgely, she discovers her ancestral heritage Cassie comes from a long line of witches, but witches are not born with magical skills; they must learn them. As Cassie studies to become a witch, she tries to find out where her mother went and why she left so abruptly. Meanwhile, children are going missing all over the country and something mysterious and sinister threatens everyone's safety.
The only thing more exciting than reading Hedgewitch was discovering that it's part of a five-book series. I'm already looking forward to the other four books. It's rare to enter a fictional universe that feels so real, especially when magic is involved. Skye McKenna's attention to detail creates an intricate, rich and convincing universe.
The portrayal of the citizens of Faerie recalled the folklore I grew up with here in Ireland. Members of the Faerie community that are not to be trusted, and possibly even dangerous, feel far more authentic than the sparkly and generous kind. In Hedgewitch, living so close to the Faerie realm means peculiar and suspicious incidents, and items being stolen, rather than fairy dust, granted wishes or pots of gold.
Despite this, Hedgely is an irresistibly quaint setting. I'd love to explore its cobbled streets, sample the delights of Marchpane's, browse in Widdershins' bookshop and call to The Pickled Imp afterwards. The Hedge is as alive as all the characters and the reader can almost smell its earthy scent and hear twigs snapping when Cassie enters it. You never know what is waiting inside the Hedge, and its maze-like structure is forever changing, which adds to the appeal.
As fascinating as Hedgely and its surroundings are, this book's characters are equally compelling. So much subtle humour exists in their interactions and even those with minor roles are remarkably well developed. From the paper-eating 'bookwyrms', nefarious goblins, unreliable imps, volatile urchins and to-be-avoided river hags, and the teachers at Fowell House, every creature we encounter is full of personality. The villains have plenty of depth and complexity too.
Cassie is a wonderful character: loyal, brave, determined and clever. At the same time, she is not perfect. Cassie can be impulsive and reckless, headstrong and short-tempered, but her flaws make her more lovable and relatable. Cassie's friends are amazing supports and her relationship with them is just as powerful as any form of magic.
Housekeeper Mrs Briggs is a benevolent force that recalls the kindest of grandmothers. I would love to spend time in her kitchen. Brogan the gardener is a gentle soul whose protectiveness of his plants, especially his prized 'gurtroot', is as endearing as it is amusing. I was in stitches during a scene that involved an invasion of 'urchins' in his potting shed. I get the impression he has Irish roots which made me even fonder of him.
Montague the cat explains Hedgely and its conventions to Cassie and in turn to the reader. With lines like, "I do not like the direction you appear to be heading in with this line of enquiry," he is so exquisitely feline and another fantastic character. Miranda, the aloof Hedgewitch, is as intriguing as the disappearance of Cassie's mother. I look forward to learning more about both as the series develops.
The illustrations, by Tomislav Tomic, enhance the book's classic quality and Skye McKenna has included so many inventive and atmospheric elements that enrich the story further. The Hartwood Tree which lies at the centre of Hartwood Hall is so striking that it actually gave me goosebumps. The badges that the trainee witches collect as they complete different challenges, similar to those awarded to girl guides, are another excellent touch. The different witch patrols, and the rivalry between them, are also brilliant. I loved all the scenes involving broomsticks and how they're capable of being as unpredictable and obstinate as mules.
It's challenging to talk about a book that elicits such a strong emotional response without sounding like a babbling idiot. I loved everything about Hedgewitch and I could go on and on, but I won't. I'm going to leave you with the description of Marchpane's, a shop in Hedgely that has, "a pink-striped awning and the smell of cinnamon, toffee and fresh bread wafting through the open door." I found Hedgewitch every bit as enticing. It's beautifully written, extremely funny, slightly creepy and utterly magical. Make sure you pick up a copy of Hedgewitch when it releases on 14th April and see for yourself how absolutely magnificent this book is. Thank you so much to Welbeck for my advance reading copy. All opinions (and Hedgewitch obsessions!) are my own. Read an interview with author Skye McKenna about her enchanting debut