Book Reviews

Review: Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

This magical middle grade read is everything I could have hoped for, with a talking cat, a plucky heroine, and Girl Guides that are witches!

Book: Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

Publication date: 14th April 2022

Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Welbeck Flame. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: minor violence and bullying.

Cassie Morgan has run away. After seven years spent waiting for her mother to return, she flees her dreary boarding school and sets out to find her. But the world outside her school is full of hidden magic and children have been going missing.

With the help of a talking cat and a flying broom, Cassie escapes to the enchanted village of Hedgely. There she will begin her training in the practical skills of witchcraft with the Hedgewitch, who watches over the Hedge, the vast forest that marks the border between England and Faerie.

This is marvellously magical stuff that feels like an instant classic. It has all the English charm of The Worst Witch, but with a more modern heroine and a take on faeries that’s far more traditionally folkloric than most middle grade I’ve read. It manages that rare thing of feeling new and exciting while also making you feel utterly at home, as if this is a story you’ve been reading over and over for years, one that you’ve taken into your bones already – which is not to say that it’s predictable, just that it feels like you’re among old friends.

There are so many great things in this book that I’d run the risk of sounding a bit like a shopping list if I were to point them all out! I love a magical cat sidekick, and Montague, in all his snarky glory, is a great one. I enjoyed the atmospheric forest, the Hedge, so much – it’s so vividly described. Oh, and there are beautiful illustrations too, by Tomislav Tomic: not just the chapter headers, which are intricate drawings themselves, but also full-page illustrations at key moments that really add to the gorgeous imagery. The way that the faeries are depicted is fantastic – they’re not so creepy as to be age-inappropriate, but they’re definitely the dangerous kind of ballads and folklore, and I loved spotting some lesser-known kinds like the glashtyn. I’m pretty sure there’s a shout-out to one of my favourite real life herbals, too, which was a lovely hedgewitchy nod!

Cassie is a wonderful heroine; she’s likeable, determined, and very easy to identify with as she adapts to life in Hedgely. There’s a lot going on here, from Cassie’s integration into the coven, to her relationship with the forbidding aunt she never knew she had, to her adventures in the magical forest, to her search for her missing mother – but it all ticks along smoothly and I never felt like any part of the plot was being forgotten about, mostly thanks to how much I was invested in each different area of Cassie’s life. This is a fairly chunky book for middle grade (the proof has over 400 pages) but it races along with exciting things happening right until the very end, and I just didn’t want the end of the book to come!

The most brilliant part of this book to me was the coven, Hedgely’s magical answer to Girl Guides. We’ve all seen dozens of magical schools, but having witchcraft be something extra-curricular, but still with a framework of oaths to swear, patrols to join, badges to work towards and levels to move up is so clever. Added to the utter brilliance of the setting is a very personal touch for me – I’ve been involved in Guiding since I was very small, first as a member and then as a leader, and while I don’t currently have a pack due to time commitments, I’m eager to get back to one. Guiding has been such a strong influence on me – the chance to try new things, to have a supportive community of friends, to check off as many badges as possible – and Skye McKenna has totally, completely nailed that whole feeling here, but with a witchy twist that I wish was possible in real life. Many Brownie packs have (or had, in the older schemes) patrol names strongly linked to English faerie lore and woodlands anyway so it’s just a perfect fit. I loved every single coven scene.

I don’t know if it would actually be possible to write a book more geared towards me, so it should be no surprise that I adored this and will recommend it to everyone for years to come. I wish I’d had it as a child, but I’m so glad to have read it now. I’m utterly delighted that this is only the first book of five, and I cannot wait for the next book, Woodwitch, to come out next year. Five out of five cats!

7 thoughts on “Review: Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna

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