Well Witched

Well Witched By Francis Hardinge [LibraryThingAmazon]

Ryan, Josh, and Chelle don’t think much of it when they steal a few coins from a wishing well for bus fare back home. But to steal the coins from a well spirit is to take on her obligation of granting wishes, and soon the kids find themselves developing the powers to do just that – from the eyes on Ryan’s knuckles that see things they shouldn’t, to Chelle’s newfound ability to speak the thoughts of strangers, to Josh’s sudden affinity with electromagnetism. It’s then that they find that the wishes people make in their hearts are infinitely darker and more dangerous than the ones they speak aloud, and that the changes the well witch has wrought in them go deeper than they think.

This book, verging on the horror side of fantasy, is not really my kind of story, and I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I hadn’t been so deeply enamored of Francis Hardinge thanks to Fly By Night. And, well, we can chalk this up to another great quality of Fly By Night, because Well Witched is awesome. For starters, it’s genuinely creepy and sinister; I was scared and grossed out in all the right places, and the villains are truly menacing even when riddled with pathos. The tone isn’t as wonderfully rich as that of Fly By Night, but when it hits, it hits hard.

Ryan is a pretty appealing, though standard, protagonist. He’s a quiet, reserved boy with a great love of reading and a unique way of looking at the world – very typical stuff for kids’ lit. I found Chelle much more interesting. She starts off as a very anxious, obedient nonentity – the boys describe her as “coleslaw,” something nice enough to get with your meal but nothing you’d order on its own – and gradually comes out of her shell and becomes a really vivacious, competent person. Moreover, the seeds of her change are planted well in advance, so her coming into her own feels very natural.

On the other hand, I disliked Josh pretty severely. This concerned me at first, because I expect Francis Hardinge to handle character well, but it gradually became clear that I wasn’t necessarily supposed to like him, and then I felt better. I still wouldn’t say his characterization is without flaws, though. See, he’s essentially a charismatic bully. The problem is that we see the bullying, but not the charisma – Ryan just tells us that he’s charismatic. Thus I had no emotional attachment to him, and couldn’t understand why Ryan and Chelle did. Ah, well, they can’t all be perfect.

For me, the greatest characterization in Well Witched was that of Ryan’s parents, particularly his mother. They bicker constantly, and Ryan spends the book aggravated with his mother and worrying that his parents are going to get divorced, but he eventually comes to realize that for all her flaws, his mother loves him (and Ryan’s father) fiercely, and would die to protect him. The strength of a mother’s love, and the lengths a mother will go to to ensure her child’s happiness, are actually a major theme of the book, and a powerful and moving one at that. Again, Hardinge builds this up and weaves it through all the subplots of the book brilliantly. This is because Francis Hardinge is awesome.

However, the great strength of the book is the backstory. The explanation of the well witch and the recent history surrounding her are brilliant, especially the way they weave pagan folklore with Christianity. I can’t say any more without ruining it, but trust me, it’s good. I also really liked the moral of the story: that rather than wishing, you should go out and make the changes you want in your life. Fly By Night insisted on not letting others do your thinking for you; Well Witched insists on not letting others do your doing for you, either.

My only quibble, besides Josh, is that at certain points it was very difficult to follow the action, particularly during the scene where Ryan, Chelle, and two of their wishers are escaping from a flash flood. It’s a fairly minor one, though, so Well Witched gets four and a half cupcakes, and a candle to make a wish on on top! (Oh ho, do you see what I did there?)

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    One Response to “Well Witched”

    1. Hannah says:

      I think I like this book better than Fly by Night ( even though I don’t really remember much about Fly by Night except for a girl with a goose and a man who always wanted to eat the goose.)
      At the beginning of the book I was kinda freaked out about how attached Ryan and Chelle were to Josh.
      I didn’t really think Josh was a bully, just a seriously messed up kid. One second he was nice and the next he was a jerk but even though he was a jerk I still felt sorry for him at the end even though he got what he deserved but I think I’ll give him some props ( not many, more like one) for giving the freaky Mrs. Gossamer the doll…if that was him.
      I loved it when Chelle started to change!!!! I think she might have been my favorite character. I agree with you on the flood thing. I had no idea what was going on, I was reading that part and pausing thinking “wait, why are they sliding down the door? I thought she got off her float? What the heck is going on?”
      But other than that I thought it was a good book and I loved the moral in it!

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