On the night that Aunty dies, the raggedy witches come for Mup’s family. Pale, cold, and relentless, the witches will do anything for the tyrannical queen who has outlawed most magic and enforces her laws with terror and cruelty — and who happens to be Mup’s grandmother. When witches carry off her dad, Mup and her mam leave the mundane world to rescue him. But everything is odd in the strange, glittering Witches Borough, even Mam. Even Mup herself. In a world of rhyming crows, talking cats, and golden forests, it’s all Mup can do to keep her wits about her. And even if she can save her dad, Mup’s not sure if anything will ever be the same again.
- Title: Begone the Raggedy Witches
- Series: The Wild Magic Trilogy, Book 1
- Author: Celine Kiernan
- Illustrator: Victoria Semykina
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- ISBN: 0763699969
- Publication Date: September 11, 2018
- For Ages: 9-12
- Category: Middle Grade
- Spooky-Scary or Spooky-Fun? ☠️ Scary.
I’d like to thank Candlewick Press for providing an advance copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Family is a painful, complicated thing in Celine Kiernan’s Begone the Raggedy Witches, the first entry in her Wild Magic Trilogy. Our heroine Mup, a brave and kind young girl who knows that you can never have too much color or sparkle in your life, has to grow up very quickly in this story as she learns that her family relationships aren’t what she thought they were…and that she isn’t what she thought she was, either.
When the “raggedy witches” of the title — pale-faced, black-eyed creatures with ragged cloaks — kidnap her father in order to lure her mother over the magical border into the Glittering Land, Mup meets her cold, tyrannical grandmother and sees her mother for who she truly is. I give Celine Kiernan a lot of credit for her characterization of Stella, Mup’s mother. Stella is the heir to the throne, but because of her mother the Queen’s evil nature, Stella was stolen away and taken to the mundane world by her Aunty. Stella never learned anything about her magical home or latent powers, and when she crosses the threshold for her rescue mission and feels the power surging through her, she is immediately resentful of Aunty for keeping it from her for all those years.
Stella expresses quite a bit of ambivalence about being a parent, both before and after she crosses the threshold, and it is refreshing to see a character presented with such depth and complexity without being reduced to a pure villain. Stella still loves and protects her children, but she has obviously been worn down by the demands of being a caregiver — she has been taking care of Aunty during a protracted illness, and she is effectively a single parent, since her husband Daniel works out of the country and rarely sees his family. When Stella sees an opportunity to live the life she believes was stolen from her, doubts arise and her devotion to her children wavers.
You don’t often see situations like this handled with sensitivity, or really mentioned at all; Stella loves her children, but if she had a chance to go back and do it all over again, she might not have chosen motherhood for herself. We also see the bright, observant Mup pick up on Stella’s conflicted feelings, though at Mup’s young age I don’t think she fully grasps what is going on. Ultimately, Mup understands that her mother loves her and wants to keep her safe, and that’s what matters to her. This storyline alone convinced me that the Wild Magic Trilogy is something truly special, because Kiernan conveys all of this complex, difficult humanity with beauty and effortlessness.
The world-building in this novel is spectacular. The Queen has instituted harsh rules outlining who can use magic and when and how they can do it, but we still see breathtaking glimpses of the wild magic that is possible in this world. The rebels who want to overthrow the Queen and install Stella as the new ruler provide a great deal of necessary (but subtle) exposition regarding the magic that once ruled the Glittering Land. We see it in action as Mup, delighting in her newfound powers, plays with a friend and communes with nature like a true witch. Seeing Mup discover the joys of magic — and seeing the wistful sorrow of the other witches who witness Mup’s discovery, as they realize they had forgotten what their outlaw magic looks like — is so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.
The ultimate showdown between Stella and the Queen is handled with just as much maturity and grace as the rest of the book. I won’t give away any details, but Kiernan lets the reader know that there is never just one villain — and there are no easy answers or true happily ever afters — in a fairy tale. The darkness and complexity of this novel make it a delightfully rich beginning to what I hope will be a classic trilogy. With incredible characters like Stella and Mup, I have little doubt that my hope will come true.
I’m ready for Books 2 and 3. I give this book 5 out of 5 coffins.