The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol

I enjoyed The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol (Chicken House/Scholastic, July 25 2017, 2016 in the UK), very much--it's a solid, traditional feeling fantasy that, though it didn't break any wildly imaginative new ground, nevertheless offered a solid few hours of pleasing diversion (and it wasn't even a matter of me feeling cynical because of having read so very much mg fantasy; it was just me enjoying a nice read).

The story begins with teenaged Arianwyn flunking her witch's assessment.  That means she won't get a posting as a professional witch, though her country badly needs witches for defense against threats both external (foreign enemies) and internal (dangerous native magic turning ugly).   It turns out though, that the need is so very great that even though she is still ranked as a lowly apprentice, she gets an assignment to serve as the witch to the remote little town of Lull.  Though off the beaten track, Lull proves to have its own challenges and excitements.

Banishing minor magical beings is perfectly within Arianwyn's competence, but when she inherits, along with the previous witch's accommodation, a dangerous and forbidden glyph, that offers power with a dark price, things begin to get a little bit to exciting...

The fact that Arianwyn's former classmate, a mean, snooty girl who's always been a despising pain, shows up for an extended visit to her family in Lull complicates things.  Gimma, though she set herself up as Arianwyn's rival, turns out to be a magical liability, and a nasty piece of work. Fortunately, Arianwyn turns out to be much more gifted at magic than her test results might have shown, and with the support of the witch running the regional magical bureaucracy (nice to see good civil servants in fantasy), and with her own witch grandmother swinging in to lend a hand, Arianwyn finds her way to becoming confident in her own abilities and is able to bring a resolution (for now) to the dangers threatening Lull.

Young readers will be delighted (an even though Arianwyn is a teenager, keeping house for herself, this definitely is a middle grade book that kids as young as 8 or 9 may well enjoy).  Many of the magical creature encounters are amusing, and additional kid appeal comes in when Arianwyn is adopted by a magical moon hare (cuteness points!), and thought the mean girl vs. the heroine story is not new, it is pleasantly reworked here and will be nicely familiar and comforting to readers who want encouragement in their own middle school social lives.  My favorite bit, me being me, is Arianwyn moving into the old witch's house (I like house details!).

So yes, a very good read, even if it doesn't break any particularly new ground.  This is the author's debut, and I will be paying very keen attention to his future books.  Especially if they are set in this world, which has lots of room in it for more adventures!

Just checked the Kirkus review; they agree with me, except I don't see why they put the age of reader as 11-16.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. sounds like a good one to pick up...thx for review!

  2. I love the US cover. It's so folksy! I love the fresh interpretation of magic and magical learning.

  3. Have this in my TBR. Looking forward to reading!


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