Review: Once We Were Witches

This first in a new series is like a glorious pudding filled with many delicious ingredients: witches, ghosts, dragons and other magical creatures, sinister villains, secrets, adventure, mystery, magic, lots of humour, and touches of history, folklore, and legends. 

Clearly, this is going to have wide appeal and capture the imaginations of even your more reluctant readers.

Egg (Meghan) and Spel (Elspeth) are orphaned sisters who have been raised since their earliest years in the austere and severe Miss Mouldhell’s School for Wicked Girls. 

The girls are not even allowed outside the school let alone out in the wider world and their meagre information about a normal girl’s life in 2021 has been gleaned from one illicitly obtained teen magazine. 

Their lives are narrow, bleak and without any kind of joy. Egg and Spel have no idea who they really are but that is about to change dramatically. 

Locked in the crypt as (yet another) punishment overnight, the two girls receive a strange letter down the chimney which tells them to run away and gives instructions to a weird little undertaker’s cottage far out in the country.

Their escape is fraught with the unknown and the growing knowledge of their own hidden abilities. They are – or once were – witches and it becomes apparent, as their thrilling adventure unfolds, that all their school friends are likewise.

Egg is brash and bold while Spel is timid and fearful, but despite being complete opposites in personality the girls are as close as can be, and when Egg is taken through one of four mysterious portals in the undertaker’s basement, Spel is determined to rescue her.

The revelation that it is actually Spel who wields the greatest power, being born in the Shadow world but also human, is a wonderful thrill for the little girl who has always been her sister’s ‘shadow’. Spel’s transformation as she grows in her own identity, overcomes her fears, and becomes empowered not just by her magic is just a delight.

Readers will be enchanted in every sense and it would be a very hard-to-please child who could not find something in this terrific story to enjoy.

Highly recommended for readers from around 9 years upwards.

Title: Once We Were Witches
Author: Sarah Driver Illustrated by Fabi Santiago
Publisher: Harper Collins, $14.99
Date of Publication: March 2021
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978140529543
For ages: 9+
Type: Middle Grade Fiction

May 6, 2021 at 12:36AM DimbutNice