Goodreads: Well Witched
Ryan and his friends don’t think twice about stealing some money from a wishing well. After all, who’s really going to miss a few tarnished coins?
The well witch does.
And she demands payback: Now Ryan, Josh, and Chelle must serve her . . . and the wishes that lie rotting at the bottom of her well. Each takes on powers they didn’t ask for and don’t want. Ryan grows strange bumps–are they eyes?–between his knuckles; Chelle starts speaking the secrets of strangers, no matter how awful and bloody; and Josh can suddenly–inexplicably–grant even the darkest of wishes, the kind of wishes that should never come true.
Darkly witty, wholly unexpected, and exquisitely sinister, Frances Hardinge’s Well Witched is one well-cast tale that readers didn’t know they were wishing for.
I have loved every book by Frances Hardinge that I have read, so I was more than surprised to discover that Well Witched failed to capture my imagination in the same way as her other stories have. While I associate Hardinge’s work with beautiful prose, as well as with quirky and imaginative stories, Well Witched reads a bit more like a standard middle-grade fantasy than it does a highly original and inventive tale. In the end, I enjoyed Well Witched, but it does not strike me as a read that is memorable, or one that I am likely to read again.
The aspect I enjoyed most about Well Witched is the way that magic intersects with the contemporary world. Often, fantasies tend to be set in pseudo-medieval worlds, alternative worlds, or worlds based on a past time period. Much rarer are those stories that suggest that magic is still around, and that the readers, too, might just be able to catch a glimpse. In Well Witched, the characters receive unwelcome powers after stealing coins from a wishing well. They must then determine what the well witch wants from them, all while hiding their new strangeness from friends and family. I absolutely loved the idea that contemporary characters have to figure out how to accept the presence of magic in their midst, all while hiding the fact from people who might think they are crazy.
The characterization, however, does not reach the standards I have come to expect from Hardinge. What I love about her books is that her protagonists are often conflicted, but also often not very nice. They are not necessarily heroes or people striving to do the right thing, but people striving to survive. In Well Witched, there are echoes of Hardinge’s complex characters, particularly in Josh, the leader of the trio of protagonists, who seems to enjoy his dark new powers a little too much. However, the story is told mainly from the perspective Ryan, who is more of a do-gooder, a little more boring, and a little unobservant for someone the story claims can see things others cannot. One of the main things Ryan misses is his friend Chelle, whom he dismisses as a bubbly, perhaps not too bright, chatterer, just like everyone else. Perhaps it is the presence of three main characters that throws this book off, but each one gets a few defining characteristics, but none really comes alive in the breathtaking way that Hardinge is capable of.
Finally, the plot in Well Witched is not evenly paced, and somehow comes across as less original than it probably is. The story starts off incredibly slowly, and only picks up steam in the final third. By this point, of course, some readers may have already given up. The slow pacing at the start damages the feeling of the story overall. The idea that an ancient spirit of some sorts is now trapped in a modern-day well, granting twisted witches, is a great one! But all the interesting bits that come with this information arrive too late in the tale to feel as meaningful and gripping as they might. I love the concept of Well Witched. I think the execution could be improved.
Well Witched is not a bad story by any means. It is certainly worth a read for fans of Hardinge, and it will probably also appeal to readers who like their tales twisted. Hardinge excels at the creepy, and not many middle-grade authors seem to be willing to go as as dark as she does. We’re talking infanticide (a story from the past–not depicted in the present storyline), souls trapped in some sort of limbo hell, and friends willing to commit murder to keep their powers. Perhaps it is not surprising that some readers prefer to categorize Hardinge’s middle-grade books as YA. But for readers who like a bit of horror, Hardinge delivers.
So would I recommend Well Witched? Certainly, to the right reader. Do I think it is Hardinge’s best work? Probably not. But even Hardinge’s more standard fare is engaging.