Elizabeth Forest and I met several year ago at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. We catch up online and see each other nearly every year at FogCON. Elizabeth has published her first book, The Third Kind of Magic. It’s a middle-grade fantasy with a beautifully developed magic system, a flawed and engaging young heroine and a suspenseful plot. Along the way we meet shapeshifters, particularly a flock of wild geese, wise women and vengeful witches, and my person favorites, a family of crows.
Elizabeth gave me an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) of her book but I made no guarantee of a review.
In Suli’s world, the local villagers make a distinction between wise women, who use the magical powers of seeing and healing, and witches, who are considered evil and use the third kind of magic, control, most frequently expressed as the Voice. When Suli uses a powerful magic to protect her brother from bullying, her grandmother sends her far from the village to study with the wise woman Tala. At first Suli is homesick and rebellious, especially since Tala has her pulling weeds and feeding geese rather than learning magic. Then Suli learns about the shapeshifting.
Just as Suli starts to understand the difference between the kinds of magic, an evil witch on the mountain kidnaps Tala. With the help of two of the geese and a pair of crows charged with teaching her crow magic, Suli must figure out how to help her mentor. It seems as if there are only two choices; exchange herself as a hostage and become a witch herself, or figure out how to kill the witch.
Suli starts off as a character who sees things in simple black and white terms While she uses magic to compel the bullies, she still insists she would turn in a real witch to the Witch Examiners who routinely come through the countryside and hang women they have defined as witches. As the story progresses, she begins to learn that life is not simple. It is a delight to watch Suli grow through this story.
I loved the talking animals and the descriptions of the countryside. The mystery of Suli’s family unfolds slowly. The witch’s motivation for being what she is rang true to me.
And, of course, the crows were my favorites!
Forest’s language is not condescending, but it is right for the age group. I guess that odd old term, “deceptively simple” comes into play here. Forest gets the words to do whatever she needs them to, and the descriptions are lovely, but she doesn’t engage in dense internal monologues or beautiful, complex meandering sentences for their own sake. This language is right for the age group (and an adult) without writing down to anyone.
The world felt concrete with for me a strong northern European flavor. Forest doesn’t forget that people need infrastructure to live; without making it a big part of the plot she shows us that there is a local mill and a miller, for instance, and weavers.
One or two names glitched for me, but I seriously doubt a YA reader would care even if they noticed.
All in all I thought this was a delightful read and I think kids of both sexes between eleven and fourteen would be immersed in it.