Red Witch starts immediately after the end of Anna McKerrow’s Crow Moon (see my 5-piranha review here), moving over the border from the Greenworld, a corner of England run on ecological principles by witches, to the Redworld, where a war rages over control of the world’s dwindling fuel supplies. Young witch Demelza Hawthorne flees her Greenworld home after casting a curse on the two people she believes responsible for the death of the boy she loves. Out in the Redworld, she discovers poverty, inequality and filth unlike anything she has ever come across in her former life. But she also encounters delicious foods, constant hot water and beautiful clothes. And more than that, having always felt like the unattractive frump next to the flirty confidence of her sister, Saba, Melz begins to feel her beauty and strength grow as the eyes of the gorgeous and powerful Bran turn her way. Bran is interested in magic; he’s already gathered round him a group of –rather feeble – Redworld witches, but Melz is the real thing. With Bran to support her, Melz could bring magic back to the Redworld – but she will discover that Bran’s agenda is not at all like her own.
Sequels are tricky. I’ve ranted a good deal about them, in reviews and blogs (for example, see here). Personally, I feel that a sequel works best if it is possible to read it on its own, that is, if it stands as a book in its own right. Any of the Harry Potter books, for example, could be read alone and you can read them in the wrong order without losing anything. It’s a difficult thing to pull off and I’m afraid Anna McKerrow has, to my mind, failed.
It all starts well. Putting Melz into a new environment where she has to introduce herself to people who don’t know her and reflect on where she came from and how she got there provides a succinct but thorough backstory outline while immersing the reader in the story being told by this novel. The conflict of Melz’s Greenworld values with what she sees around her is engaging, as is her embracing of her new position as important witch and Bran’s lover. The middle section of the book, where she realises what Bran is doing and has to deal with it works too. And as with Crow Moon, McKerrow shows us each new setting with fabulously atmospheric detail.
It is the return to the Greenworld that I find problematical. First because here we are, two thirds of the way through the book, and we suddenly find ourselves in a setting and with a bunch of characters that have almost nothing to do with the rest of the book. It’s true that if you had read Crow Moon you would find these places and people familiar, but we’ve scarcely met them here and yet they are thrown at us as if we know all about them. It’s the kind of mistake some sequels make right at the beginning of the book and here, coming after such a strong first two thirds, it’s a misstep that threw me.
And then, all of a sudden, with most of the threads of the story sewn up, we are in a different story altogether, a story designed to hook us into the next book in the series which robs the novel of its satisfying ending. I feel cheated! This kind of ending is so unfair to the reader. And what is more, I’m surprised someone as clearly talented as Anna McKerrow would resort to it. I will read the next installment when it comes out, and I expect when all the books are published, the three together will read very well as a whole. But for now … grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
(The beginning of the book rates 5 piranhas, but it’s hopelessly let down by the last third!)
More to read!
For a fabulous witchy read, try The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber.
Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French? You can read the first chapter here.
There’s a giveaway for Claire’s book running until June 1st 2016 over on Goodreads. Click here to enter.