Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan (Candlewick, September 11 2018), is a lovely new middle grade fantasy for kids who delight in exploring magical worlds along with brave kids finding their own magical powers!

Mup had no idea her mother came from a world of magic until the night her great-aunt died, and the raggedy witches stole her father away.  Her father was the bait that would pull her mother back into that world to save him, so that the queen of the witches, Mup's own grandmother, could eliminate her as a rival.  This comes as a surprise to Mup's mother; her great-aunt had decided to raise her in mundane Ireland, with no knowledge of her magical heritage.

Mup, her little brother (transformed into a puppy), the ghost of the great-aunt, and her mother cross the boarder into a place where the witch queen has clamped down on all magic that is not part of her cabal of evil, raggedy witches.  Mup's mother comes into her inheritance of magic.  And, this being a good, proper, middle grade fantasy, it turns out that Mup has a magic of her own that she must learn to draw on if she is to get them safely home again.  But will her mother want to leave, now that she knows she is the heir to this place of wonders?

It is a really satisfying story, with a nice balance of internal anxiety for family and new friends and external anxiety about formidable magical opponents.  The initial journey through the magical world that sets things in motion gives the reader, and Mup, time to figure out what's happening, and introduces Crow, a shape-shifting boy, with his own desperate need for family, who both helps Mup with her quest and becomes another person for her to care for.  Mup isn't interested in saving the world; she's interested in saving those she loves, and so, though there's plenty of vividly described fantasy-type adventuring and  battling against evil magic (with Mup manifesting fascinating magic of her own!) there's plenty of emotional heart here too.

This was first published in Ireland, and remains un-Americanized; Mum is not corrected to Mom, for instance, making it even more interestingly foreign to American readers.

There's scary stuff (the raggedy witches, though their name makes them sound, perhaps, a little silly, are very nightmarish), and there's one rather no-punches-pulled death, but all in all I'd be happy to give this to a fantasy fan at the younger end of middle grade--the magic-loving 4th grader.  And I'd also be happy to give it to the magic loving upper end kid--the 7th grader feeling pressured by controlling grown-ups (like Mup's Great-aunt) and wanting to escape the mundanity of middle school,

I enjoyed it lots, and am very happy it's the first book of a trilogy!  There's lots of work to be done in the world of the raggedy witches, and it will be a pleasure to see Mup and her family set to it!

and now I go see what Kirkus thinks...and although theirs was a metaphor that did not occur to me, I am happy to see we ended up in the same place.

From their starred review:

"Kiernan has crafted something at once familiar and delightfully surprising with this fantasy quest. Like biting into an unassuming brownie to discover it has a heart of Nutella, Mup’s narrative has all the hallmarks of a traditional misadventure with the fairy folk, but the unusual deployment of the “chosen one” trope, a plot-driving interweave of magic and family tension, and ineffably Irish elements of worldbuilding and characterization deliver readers an unexpected twist of richness.

It’s fortunate a trilogy is planned, for readers will surely demand more of Mup."

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


  1. You had me with the title on this one. I am not a big fantasy reader, but this sounds like a perfect book. I will definitely check it out. Thanks for this review.

  2. Hadn't heard of this book, but now I've read three great reviews in the past day and am eager to check it out.


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