AUTHOR: John Schoffstall
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon
MOBILISM LINK: Mobilism
Blurb: In the world in which Lizbet Lenz lives, the sun still goes around the earth, God speaks directly to his worshippers, goblins haunt every cellar and witches lurk in the forests. Disaster strikes when Lizbet's father Gerhard, a charming scoundrel, is thrown into a dungeon by the tyrant Hengest Wolftrow. To free him, Lizbet must cross the Montagnes du Monde, globe-girdling mountains that reach to the sky, a journey no one has ever survived, and retrieve a mysterious book.
Lizbet is desperate, and the only one who can help her is the unpleasant and sarcastic witch girl Strix. As the two girls journey through the mountains and into the lands of wonder beyond, on the run from goblins, powerful witches, and human criminals, Lizbet discovers, to her horror, that Strix's magic is turning Lizbet into a witch, too. Meanwhile, a revolution in Heaven is brewing.
Review: Half-Witch, Half-Witch, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Genuinely, though, I have no idea where or how I found this book. I can find no mention of it on my favourite book blogs, so presumably none of them recommended it to me. My friends have never heard of it. It appeared on none of the newsletters I subscribe to. Where did it come from? Did I just happen to stumble through the wardrobe while browsing Amazon and come upon it by pure chance? Did I wake up one morning with it already waiting for me on my ereader? Did the Pixie Queen descend from on high in her dolphin-drawn clamshell-carriage and present it to me, then wipe my memory?
I have no clue. And that air of mystery and subtle magic is perfect appropriate, because I'm not sure I've ever read anything so...so...
Words fail me.
Her only friends were her dolls, her father, and her God, to whom Lizbet prayed that Gerhard might someday prosper, and that she might live in one town all her life, like a normal girl.
God was always friendly and sounded sympathetic, but He just didn’t get what being a “normal girl” meant. He liked to ramble on about fasting. Or martyrdom. Had Lizbet ever considered becoming an anchoress, He asked?
An anchoress, God explained, was someone who let herself be walled up in a cubbyhole in some church for her entire life, with nothing to do but pray all day long. It was like solitary confinement, except that you hadn’t done anything to deserve it.
It was the absolute opposite of being a normal girl.
In a lot of ways, Half-Witch reminds me of Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and if you've ever been subject to my impassioned do you have time to talk about our lady and saviour Catherynne M Valente??? rhapsody, you'll know that's high praise indeed. There are some stylistic differences - Half-Witch is written in third-person, Girl has an omniscient narrator talking directly to the reader, and Valente's September is far more like Strix than she is Lizbet, Half-Witch's main character - but in some fundamental ways they're very similar. They're both allegedly middle-grade books that are deep and clever and beautiful enough to gut-punch adults too (maybe even gut-punch adults harder than they do younger readers); they both follow young girls discovering they can be (or already are) far more than they thought they could be. They both read like fairytales for the modern age, capturing some elusive, ancient, indescribably mythopoeic quality while telling stories that are like nothing you've ever come across before. They're both pure magic.
But Half-Witch is darker. Not so dark that I wouldn't give it to my little sister - I plan on putting a copy in her hands the first chance I get - but dark enough that I might have hesitated to give it to her a few years ago. And - I think this is important - dark enough to be exactly what I needed right now.
She shook her head. “What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, it’s not supposed to make sense,” Mrs. Woodcot said with exasperation. “I’m trying to exploit your youthful innocence, deference toward adults, and sexual fears to trick you into doing something you would not do otherwise. Why can’t you just play along? Mortals are so tedious.”
I love Valente and I always will; I will never stop loving her Fairyland series. And it's not that her Fairyland doesn't have its own painful revelations too. But...Half-Witch is the book I needed right now. It's a fairytale for those of us who are tired and bruised inside and can't face, at the moment, the stories that sparkle and glitter. I don't know how to put this without sounding like Fairyland is anything but the rich and complex series it is. Fairyland is not fluffy. But it's too obviously bright and hopeful and full of wonder for me to take when I don't have the strength to believe in it. When I'm tired and hurting and can't figure out how to wash the cynicism from my eyes.
However, when they went by the cathedral, Strix gave it an evil look.
“You don’t go to church, do you?” Lizbet asked.
“Certainly not,” Strix said.
“You’re not an . . . atheist?” ‘Atheist’ was about as bad as it was possible to be, in Lizbet’s opinion. Worse than being a heretic. Even worse than being a Mussulman or Hindoo or fire-worshiper.
“Nope,” Strix said.
“That’s a relief,” Lizbet said.
“I believe in God,” Strix said. “I just don’t like him.”
“I like him very much,” Lizbet said, “although we do have our quarrels now and then. My name means ‘Consecrated to God.’”
Strix said, “My name is the name of an ancient demon that flew in the sky at night, and ate the flesh of mortals. It had its feet on top and its head on the bottom, instead of the usual way around. What does ‘consecrated’ mean?”
“It means my life belongs to God.”
“That’s awful,” Strix said. “What are you planning on doing about it?”
That's where Half-Witch comes in. Because it's not a depressing book. Not at all! But it is a story I could trust, and follow, and believe in, all the way through the darkness and out the other side. It's a story that, honestly, almost tricks you into feeling hope again, believing in the world again. It's a story that acknowledges and doesn't flinch away from how unbelievably awful and terrifying things can be, how low you can fall, how hopeless everything can sometimes seem - and then shows you how to grit your teeth and snarl and fight your way back up, not with violence but with the sheer, teeth-bared determination to be good, and do good, and make things right. It's a story that reminds us that goodness is not bloodless, but neither is it bloodthirsty. It's a story about learning to be brave, and clever, and standing up for yourself and your friends; about being terrified beyond belief and Doing It Anyway.
“I’ve never had water like this,” Lizbet said to Strix as they paused at one rushing brook. She cupped the water in her palms and let it dribble down her face. “It’s like you’re drinking the mountains themselves. You’re taking them into your body, making them part of you, making their soul part of yours.”
“Cows in the upper meadows drink from the same streams,” Strix said. “Do you feel your soul becoming more like a cow’s?” She squinted at Lizbet. “Maybe you look more like a cow already.”
“Why do you have to spoil everything?” Lizbet complained. “Strix, you’re so rude.”
“Only to mortals,” Strix said. “I am perfectly polite to jinn, peri, dakini, tengu, and any other beings who matter.”
It's also wickedly clever and subtly sneaky and full of references to or ideas pulled from older stories or myths, reworked in truly incredible ways. The worldbuilding is freaking amazing. It made me laugh far more than once; it made me gleeful; it had me glued to the pages and literally breathless multiple times. It's gross and beautiful and soft and sharp, part nightmare and part dream and all unputdown-able. It's the perfect, perfect, perfect fairytale-esque story the world needs at right this moment.
So I don't know how or where you found it, what path led you to this book (and this review). But it did not lead you wrong.