On the day of her brother’s birth, six year-old Kara witnesses her mother’s sentencing and execution as a witch. Branded as outcasts, Kara and her sickly younger brother struggle to scratch a living out of their failing farmland. Then the forbidden forest known as the Thickety begins calling to Kara. Hidden in the dark soil beneath the trees, Kara finds a powerful book of magic.
Though she’s determined to be a good girl, Kara soon finds herself caught in the pull of the strange book. Tapping into its power awakens a terrible thirst in her. One which is only quenched by using more magic. If anyone discovered her, she would surely share the same fate as her mother. But is all magic evil, as her village believes, or is it only that which is used to harm which should be condemned?
Kara is an immediately likeable character. She divides her time between school and caring for her father and brother as well as managing the finances and limited resources of their small farm. Her fierce love for her family is evident in her watchful care of them.
The story is a bit dark – from the terrifying creature which emerges to discover whether Kara is a witch to the dark ruler of the forest, Sordyr, who calls to Kara, desperately seeking a bargain with her. The village lives under strict rules passed down from an ancient leader. While the rest of the world has moved on, forgetting the existence of witches and magic, the people of Kara’s village subsist on an island plagued by magic and constantly reminded of its evil.
As Kara experiments with various spells, she sometimes causes harm to the animals she summons and the people against whom she uses them. She experiences brief moments of shame or guilt over this. Ultimately there’s not a lot of clarity on which of her actions should be judged evil versus which were good. A bit more self-examination would have made it a more satisfying story for me.
As far as a story goes, the writing is top-notch. Solid characters. Exciting plot with some intense, unexpected moments.
Villagers follow the oft-quoted teachings of Timoth Cray, a famed man who fought and saved his people from powerful witches in a time of dark history. Witches are said to serve the Forest Demon, a creature of evil who lives in the dangerous wood called the Thickety.
Kara wrestles with some dark feelings – mostly wishes for revenge on those who’ve tormented her family – which only get stronger as she begins to experiment with the magic available to the keeper of the grimoire. She has the power to command animals, even unto their deaths. With each spell she casts, Kara burns to cast another.
There’s some discussion throughout the story about whether it’s possible to be a “good” witch. Certainly, Kara’s thirst for more and more magic and spells which cause harm seems to fall under evil magic. But Kara is a good girl. Can she use magic for good and does that make the magic good, too?
Each spell uses a page in the grimoire book. Kara knows when the last spell in the book is cast, the Forest Demon will extract a heavy price, one worse than death.
Some families may really take issue with the good-magic idea. The lines get pretty blurry.
Kara’s mother is publicly sentenced to execution and a terrible creature comes forth to test whether Kara herself is a witch. Definitely a creepy moment. Later, Kara uses animals to harm some village teens who’ve been picking on her family. No graphic descriptions or anything. A man gives his life to help Kara escape from prison. Kara battles a powerful witch. Brief descriptions of the battle and injuries it causes to participants and bystanders.