Wildwitch: Life Stealer
By Lene Kaaberbol
Published by Pushkin Children’s
The world of YA novels is awash with female teenage witches of all shapes, sizes and magical abilities. Gather them all together and they would fill the Grand Canyon. It would take a highly imaginative writer to inject anything innovative into the genre. Danish author Lene Kaaberbol gets halfway there with her Wildwitch series.
But here comes the word “witch” in the title yet again. Are we going to get a new, Danish spin on the ubiquitous teenage witch? And when is someone going to demand that the feminine noun “witch” is thrown into the vocabulary dustbin in the interests of gender neutrality?
In the meantime, here we have trainee witch Clara who, after being attacked by an unnaturally large cat, wakes up with magical powers. With the help of her mysterious Aunt Isa, Clara slowly comes to grips with her newfound abilities. But life as a wildwitch is not plain sailing. Where there are witches, there are supernatural enemies. If this wasn’t the case, there would be no story, and the scores of writers chronicling the adventures of teenage witches would be out of a job.
As a wildwitch, Clara can communicate with animals and exercise control over all natural forces in the wildworld. Clara dreams that she’s a sparrow flying through a dark forest; a snake slithering through the undergrowth looking for prey; a hawk swooping on a squirrel for its lunch. But when she wakes up, are those feathers, and bones and lumps of fur lying at her feet?
Clara is having problems at school because she can’t control when she enters the wildworld. Her friends are starting to ask questions. When she wakes up from one of her trances, and finds herself on a rooftop with one of her friends lying inert at her side, with claw marks on his body, the witch realises she is in trouble. When Martin slips off the roof and ends up in hospital, it’s time to seek help.
Clara turns to Aunt Isa who invites her to stay in her remote house which is also home to magical sub-Potter creatures like the Nothing, a bird-like animal with the face of a girl. It is time for Clara to receive training for her new role in life. Kaaberbol makes a misstep in this part of the novel with an incident concerning a batch of badger cubs. There are dangers in the wild world, and nature is a cruel mistress, but this is a bit strong for the readership of this otherwise inoffensive mid-grade book.
When the plot gets going, Clara faces the most dangerous of enemies in the wildworld. She has Cat, her magical wild friend to protect her, as she journeys into a deadly dance between predator and prey.
This Scandi fantasy adventure doesn’t break much new ground, but at under 200 pages, it isn’t over-stuffed like many of its rivals jockeying for position in the same section of the bookshop.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org