The Lost Witch
Worlds upon worlds, within worlds. Millions of them, some like this one, some impossibly different. They fitted inside one another like Russian dolls – more worlds than there are stars in the sky or atoms in your eye.
Bea is a typical teenager. She wants nothing more than to spend time with her friends and sneak glances at the handsome skateboarder who seems strangely interested in her. Yet sometimes we can’t choose what happens to us, and despite Bea’s wishes, her world is changing. She has begun to see and hear things that no one else can, and, when she voices her thoughts, she is approached by a group of strangers who tell her that she has the rare powers of a witch.
There once was a time when witches were quite common, but now they are being hunted. Witchfinders throughout the world have dedicated their lives to tracking down witches and taking their powers – and sometimes their lives – away from them. Now, only a few witches remain, and Bea is one of them.
She lives between two worlds: the world of the witches, where her life is constantly in danger, and the world that she shares with her family. Unfortunately, Bea’s parents are worried about her. They know that she’s been acting oddly, and they have seen her spending time with an old man who lives in a caravan. They think she’s hallucinating and want to take her to hospital, yet if they do, they will be placing Bea right in the hands of the witchfinders.
The Lost Witch is a young adult fantasy novel that tells a tale that is interwoven with magic. For, in order to survive, Bea must make sacrifices, follow her instincts, and make impossible decisions, even as she tries to keep her identity a secret.
The Lost Witch has an unusual premise; although there are plenty of books about witches and wizards living among us, there are not all that many that suggest their world is coming to an end. This is what makes The Lost Witch unique; throughout the book, the constant presence of the witchfinders becomes a threat that reflects the desperation of the surviving witches. There are hardly any of them left, and so when Bea discovers her true identity, she becomes necessary to their survival.
This might seem like a bit of a cliché. After all, the whole of the magical world ends up depending on Bea. She is the chosen hero who has the power to save them all. Yet this seemingly unoriginal storyline is countered by the other aspect of The Lost Witch‘s originality. This concerns her parents; when they suspect Bea of suffering from a mental illness, an element of doubt is introduced to the narrative. It suddenly seems that perhaps Bea’s magical world doesn’t exist at all and that, instead, she is suffering from severe delusions. This ambiguity adds a lot to the narrative, and it makes a welcome change from the books where the families of the chosen, magical heroes accept their stories without question.
Yet despite the originality of The Lost Witch, it certainly has its problems. The most major of these is, unfortunately, the plot. About halfway through this book, the story seems to change. It is as though two very separate books have been mashed together to form one: the first part is a sweet young adult tale about a girl discovering her magical powers, and the second part is a story with very adult themes, including sexual and domestic abuse. This is unexpected, and it is sure to put a lot of readers off The Lost Witch, particularly as the two halves of the book don’t seem to blend into each other very well. There is a distinct, jarring line between the two; this makes it quite difficult to keep up with the plot, as readers are likely to be too taken aback to follow along with it.
It is difficult to redeem this sudden change of tone, and so although the characters are interesting and the story is original, this book just feels like a disappointment. It’s a shame, because the idea behind it really was magnificent, and it had potential oozing out of its every page, yet, when it comes down to it, The Lost Witch seems confusing. It is an adult tale masked as a young adult book, and that isn’t easy to get your head around. After reading the first half, you could happily give this book to any teenager to read. Yet this would be a mistake; the themes of sexual assault running through the latter part of this book arguably make it unsuitable for any child under the age of 16. It is really quite harrowing at times, and although that says something about the power of Burgess’ writing, it surely makes it unsuitable for its intended audience.
I expected so much more from The Lost Witch, for, during the first half of the book, I felt really invested in its story. I enjoyed the ending, too, but I was certainly shocked at the change of tone, and it is for this reason that I cannot give The Lost Witch the four-star rating that it should have deserved. If you enjoy magic and are unlikely to be put off by the adult themes that I have mentioned in this review, it might be worth a read. It is not, after all, badly written. Unfortunately, though, I can’t recommend this book. It just wasn’t what I was expecting, and, honestly, I think that this may be the case for a lot of readers.
Review by Emily Weatherburn
Emily is a freelance proofreader and copyeditor who recently graduated from the University of Exeter with a first-class honours degree in English. She has always loved the written word and promotes reading in others by sharing her reviews of books and short stories.