Author: James Nicol
First published by Chicken House in 2016
Review by Miriam Atkinson
The Apprentice Witch provides its readers with a wonderful new world where magic and technology and witches and non-magic users all exist together in one society. The story follows fifteen year old Arianwyn when, after failing her assessment, she is unable to become a fully-qualified witch and is forced to remain as an apprentice. However due to a shortage of witches and an increase in spirit sightings, Arianwyn is sent to the remote town of Lull where she gradually learns to overcome the problems she faces.
When creating an entirely new world it is important that the reader is quickly able to grasp what is going on. To tackle this issue, Author James Nicol places the reader directly inside the mind of confused protagonist Arianwyn. This gives the reader access to all the knowledge Arianwyn possesses. This is used to effect in the chapters at the beginning of the novel when Arianwyn goes over what she needs to remember for her assessment – thus informing the reader of everything they need to understand the story at that point.
Part of the lore of the story is that witches use glyphs to shape and direct their magic. Nicol includes small pictures of these symbols throughout the novel as they are such an important part of the plot. As a reader I found the images very helpful to quickly understand what the characters where looking at rather than if Nicol had only tried to describe the glyphs with words, which I believe would have been more confusing with every reader conjuring up a slightly different image in their mind.
Woven throughout the fantasy and the magic is a heart warming story of friendship and bravery. During the novel Arianwyn slowly learns the value of trusting the people around her. Through Arianwyn and her uneasy relationship with the townspeople of Lull and her fellow witches The Apprentice Witch shows that, while independence is a good thing, there is nothing wrong with asking for help or working together to solve problems. From this the characters learn that friends can come in all shapes and sizes. The novel presents a strong message about believing in yourself no matter what even if the people around you do not necessarily feel the same. In the thrilling climax, The Apprentice Witch demonstrates that there are many different types of bravery – ranging from confronting monsters to choosing to help the people who have wronged you instead of letting them suffer.
Although The Apprentice Witch is aimed at young readers, I believe people of all ages would enjoy this book and the magical world it contains.
When I originally wrote this review in 2016 I ended it with the sentence: ‘I hope James Nicol chooses to write more of Arianwyn’s adventures in the future’. Since then Nicol has written two more books about Arianwyn. A Witch Alone was published in 2018 and A Witch Come True came out in 2019. So if you are like me and enjoy the first book we fortunately still have lots more adventures to read about.
*This review was originally written for the online magazine Cuckoo Review in July 2016*