This curious, charming, and courageous series by James Nicol chronicles a young Apprentice Witch through her troubles and triumphs. A truly wonderful read for anyone who believes in magic.
‘The key clicked loudly in the lock and Arianwyn pushed the door wide. The Spellorium seemed to heave a dusty sigh of relief as though it had been holding its breath, waiting for this moment.’
In James Nicol’s magical trilogy, Witch Apprentice Arianwyn Gribble reveals what it’s like to be a teenage witch striving for a career under the governance of the Civil Witchcraft Authority. Her task? To reduce the number of supernatural creatures and dark spirits infiltrating the Four Kingdoms. Each Witch Apprentice must serve her country to eliminate them. Her reward? To become a fully fledged witch. But becoming a witch is one thing – keeping evil at bay is quite another.
“When arriving in your new posting it is essential that you make a good first impression…”
Fifteen-year old Arianwyn dreams of being a respected witch like her grandmother before her. Forced to endure training, Arianwyn is packed off to Lull, a town on the edge of hex-ravaged Great Wood. Under the supervision of Mayor Belcher, Miss Delafield, and ultimately the intimidating white-robed High Elder, Arianwyn feels hapless and alone. Salle, a budding (never getting anywhere) actress, arrives at just the right time to befriend her. Let their adventures begin!
Arianwyn herself is a delight. Entirely relatable, she is a mixture of clumsiness and capability, misfortune and resilience, frustration and talent, uncertainty and instinct, and, above all honesty and kindness. This series is not without its twists, and life as a Qualified or Apprentice Witch is never straightforward. In addition, Arianywyn is plagued by a quiet shadow glyph with immense power. A glyph that appears in her mind unprompted shortly before tragic events. Will she learn the truth about this glyph and learn to master it or will it ultimately be her downfall?
‘A poorly trained or inexperienced witch may struggle with basic spell craft if there is a large build-up of dark magic nearby.’
While hexes and charms do exist, Arianwyn is not a witch in the traditional sense; there is not a black cat or cauldron in sight! In fact, when we interviewed author James Nicol live online, he spoke of his debate with publisher Chicken House Books about the need for a broomstick! This modern approach to witchcraft is refreshing and we adore Arianwyn’s kind nature and the friendships she makes. She even attempts, at times, to soothe her ‘frenemy’, shiny haired, tight-lipped, newly qualified witch Gimma.
During our interview, James explained that antagonists in children’s books are not designed to be truly evil. Most people in life never encounter true evil, he says. But most of us can recognise the irritation and anger our soon-to-be beloved Arianwyn experiences at the hand of others. Gimma, for example, pushes Arianwyn’s buttons throughout the series. Mayor Belcher and teacher Miss Newam are equal parts irritating and amusing. And, of course, witches always encounter dark spirits in some form – crawlers, snotlings, pangorbaks and such-like play their part in testing Arianwyn and thrilling the reader.
“All our spells, thus far, remain ineffective. And it is time for new ideas, new spells… or maybe old ones.”
When you enter the world of an Apprentice Witch you take an unforgettable journey full of uncertainty, misfortune, wit and magnetic charm. But it is the strength of the human spirit that “Wyn’s” us over. One of the delights of these books are the journey each character takes. Will Gimma ever express true kindness? Will Salle ever realise her acting dream? And no book would be complete without a loyal animal – a moon hare Arianwyn saves and grows to love who Salle names Bob. But one of our favourite characters is Colin, who flourishes when he steps from behind his desk at the Civil Witchcraft Authority to join the girls in Lull.
“She felt a rush of magic, stronger than it would usually be in the city, but she was thankful for it as it connected with the glyph and she formed the spell.”
Written with warmth the language is beautiful and presents enough challenging words for the age group. Witchy expressions add to the magic: “oh, boil it”, “jinxing jiggery”, and “where did they bogging well come from?” will have you grinning madly.
Author James Nicol’s world-building of the Four Kingdoms is fantastic. Expect plenty of air fizzing and popping and crackling as the prickle and tingle of dark magic entangles itself around you! The rich descriptions and humourous names and dialogue read like a classic C S Lewis or Roald Dahl style adventure for middle grade readers. And there is even a glossary of hand-drawn glyphs! But be warned – you’ll have plenty of hunger pangs with all the hot chocolate, scones, lemon cake and rich orange marmalade the Witch Apprentice and friends devour!
With Lime Pictures buying rights for a live action TV series, make sure you tune in when Arianwyn takes to the screen – we know we bogging well will!
Buy the Apprentice Witch series here.