A young girl loses her mother at the age of six. Her mother is accused of witchcraft and killed in front of her in the small colonial village of Denoran. The village is on an Island surrounded by dark forest known as the Thickety. It’s black life continues to encroach on the town despite clearers cutting it back every day. It reminded me of ‘The Heart of Darkness.’ No one can enter and not be changed if they survive at all.
This was another book I found in search for Halloween novels, and it is Halloween Approved! Halloween is referred to as The Shadow Festival. Activities include costumes and traveling from house to house for treats. There is even a corn maze. Sordyr is the dark creature that controls the Thickety and the Shadow Festival is dedicated to cautionary tales of Sordyr and is the night he is at his strongest.
This is an intelligent middle school/young adult book that adults can enjoy too. It centers around Kara who is twelve years old. She has taken on the role of caring for her family in the absence of her mother. Her brother is sickly and her father has never gotten over the loss of his wife. He is barely functional. Her family is looked down upon if not openly despised by the villagers because their mother was a convicted witch. The village is a tightly knit religious community and what the “Fender,” similar to a governor, says is law. The Fender believes Kara is a witch and has believed it since she was six. He has no proof, however. If this was not enough adversity for a young girl Kara has a nemesis in the body of a beautiful disabled girl named Grace. The community sees Grace as a fair-haired angel. She only shows her dark, cruel, and manipulative side to Kara and her brother Taff.
‘The Thickety’ is filled with magic. It explores a few themes: what is not understood is seen as dangerous, and the price of power. Kara is tempted by Sordyr’s creatures into the woods and finds a grimoire. As she explores its power it brings out darkness, jealousy, vengeance and anger in her. Sordyr is very similar to the concept of the devil in colonial stories of witches. He provides temptation and power to young women in exchange for their mortal soul. The focus of his attentions are on the disenfranchised and outcasts. I believe that J.A. White did proper research into witch hunts like the Salem witch trials and utilized it intelligently to create this fictional tale. It is age appropriate for middle grade children but doesn’t shy away from the unfortunate truths of historical witch hunts. I am impressed with this new series. It is a good Halloween read. It would be frightening for young children but is appropriately suspenseful for older children and young adults. It is a great introduction to early Halloween traditions in America and colonial belief in witches for young adults. I recently read The Penguin Book of Witches which is a book of collected true accounts of witch trials. I was pleasantly surprised that J.A. White’s story kept so close to historically accurate portrayals of the early American beliefs in witches.
There is a wonderful audible version of this book narrated by Susan Duerden. She has narrated several other books I enjoyed like ‘The Rook.’ She is one of my favorite narrators. I recommend this in both book and audible format for people with children from the ages of 11-18 and people who enjoy young adult and middle grade books.