Goodreads: The Only Thing Worse Than Witches
Published: August 14, 2014
The Only Thing Worse Than Witches is heartwarming story about two children who, in the course of cramming for a witch Bar Exam, discover they just might learn more about friendship than they do about spells. Rupert Campbell, hoping to escape his horrifying fifth grade teacher, answers an ad to become a witch’s apprentice. It turns out, however, that Witchling Two is, well, not yet actually a witch. She needs a human apprentice to help her study and pass her test to earn the title! Yet assisting her will not be any easier for Rupert than attending his own classes. Fraternizing with humans is against Witch Council laws, and Rupert’s life is suddenly in terrible danger.
As one can probably tell from the summary, The Only Thing Worse Than Witches is a delightful mix of whimsy and danger. The book takes full advantage of Witchling Two’s penchant for performing magic badly and places the characters in a variety of silly situations. Furthermore, the writing is just the right side of quirky: amusing, sometimes random, but never outright odd. The silliness nicely balances the fact that Rupert is essentially running/hiding for his life. While readers do feel some apprehension that Rupert might really be made into toecorn, the story never gets too dark or hopeless.
Buried within all the magic and adventure, there are also some astute life observations. There is a particular emphasis on friendship and all the things that come with it: loyalty, being true to yourself, braving danger to help out a friend. Watching Witchling Two’s and Rupert’s friendship grow is heartwarming. However, there are also all kinds of other philosophical nuggets, and both young readers and adults should find something to think about.
Framing the story is some incredibly deft world-building. This is always an important feature of fantasy, where ground rules for magic, imagined species, etc. must be laid. In a middle grade novel, there is not always space for this, but Magaziner gets everything out into the open quickly and completely. Readers learn about the witches, their history, and their government, and obtain a general sense of how potions and spells work. The magic here makes sense. Furthermore, readers also get a good feel for the town of Gliverstoll, which is basically as quirky and charming as the book itself.
The Only Thing Worse Than Witches is one of those amazingly satisfying middle grade books that is smart enough for adults to enjoy, but imaginative and heartfelt enough that it will speak even better to children. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I know the author.