The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle, by Deva Fagan (Henry Holt, 2010, middle grade, 263 pages in ARC form).
Poor Prunella is a failure. Though she was born into a powerful bogwitch family, her curses lack even the least bit of bogwitch-ery to them. And so she is consigned to watching her grandmother's garden. Although it's so warded already that watching is redundent, Prunella still manages to let a thief get through--an upland boy.
She has one last chance--if she can curse him, she can take her place in the bottom lands. But until then, her grandmother has cast her out.
So Prunella and the upland boy, Baranaby, find themselves fellow travellers. Baranby claims to be looking for the Mirable Chalice, stolen from the queen of the uplands...and Prunella just happens to know where it is--in the keeping of the fabled bad guy Lord Blackthorne. Lord Blackthorne also has the lost grimoire of Esmerelda, the most famous bog witch of them all. If she can get a hold of it, perhaps Prunella can go home.
First she has to take the chicken foot out of her hair before Baranaby agrees to be seen in public with her. And that's the least of her problems. Something strange and sinister is happening in the uplands. Since the chalic was stolen, people have been falling into a strange sickness, and even though the uplands was never as magical as the boglands, still, folks had once had enough magic to keep dark things at bay. But this isn't the case anymore...
Fagan has written a delightful story with all the requisite adventure, humor, and creative fun that makes for a good middle grade fantasy read. Prunella and Barnaby both became real to me as I read (Prunella especially, with her angst-ful longing to become a bogwitch). And, although I by no means want to imply that Fagan has written a preachy book, there's a rather nice message to it, about finding one's own path in the world--more specifically, just because your family curses people doesn't mean you have to yourself, and they may well end up appreciating you for who you are, even if you can't charm warts onto yourself.
It's the perfect sort of book to give to a nine or ten year old who isn't ready for the more densly fraught type books you find in the upper reaches of middle gradeness. And there's the added bonus, of course, that Prunella, with her "clear brown skin," is a character of color--a central character, a brave character, a character with whom anyone can relate.
I hope Deva Fagan gives us another Prunella adventure! I'd read it in a shot.
To which Deva responded: "I would very much like to write more books about Prunella and Barnaby, but that will probably depend on how well this one does. My fingers are crossed!"
Here's another review at The HappyNappyBookseller.
(review copy provided by the publisher).