The first baby born each year must be taken into the woods and sacrificed to the witch. So say the town elders, just as they have said for hundreds of years. Otherwise, the crops will fail, the volcano will explode, and sickness and sorrow will fall upon all of the townspeople. However, the town is always sorrowful in any case, and even the sky is forever gray.
In the forest, a very busy and bustling witch named Xan hurries to the spot where, she has learned from long experience, she will find a newborn baby on this day each year. Why in the world the townspeople insist on abandoning a child every year she does not know, but she is always there to rescue the baby, feed it with starlight, and find it a new home with loving, happy parents in one of the towns on the other side of the wood. On this particular year, however, the baby girl is especially lovely and sweet, with black hair, black eyes, and skin the color of amber. Xan takes her time walking through the forest, and in a moment when she is distracted by the sweetness of the baby’s coos, she reaches behind herself to fetch starlight, but gathers moonlight instead. Well, everyone knows that feeding on moonlight is enmagicking, so now Xan is in a pickle. She can’t possibly deliver an enmagicked baby to a mortal family, so she decides to raise Luna herself, along with Glerk, the bog monster, and a very tiny dragon named Fyrian.
As Luna tumbles joyfully through her days in Xan’s cottage, her magical abilities grow so rapidly that she becomes a danger to all around her, so Xan casts a spell that will hold in Luna’s magic until she is thirteen, giving Xan time to teach her. However, the spell has consequences that Xan did not anticipate, and as evil darkens all around them, Xan’s magic begins to fade, but Luna is still under the spell and completely unaware of how to save her family from total destruction.
This bewitching novel won the Newbery Medal for 2017. Barnhill has created memorable characters, from Xan’s lovable family—the wise bog monster, childlike dragon, and grandmotherly witch—to the ordinary young man who finds his inner hero, the power-hungry politicians, the pitiable madwoman, and the hideously evil villain. One of my favorite characters was Ethyne, an ordinary, non-magical young woman who was smart, confident, loving, and brave, and who radiated the undervalued power of the traditional woman’s gifts. She chose a husband, loved him so well that she made him better than he could have been without her, wore her baby in a sling with a “come at me” attitude, sweetly offered tea like throwing a gauntlet, held unflinching eye contact with those in power, and generally took charge of the world. She was completely positive, kind, and terrifying. I loved her.
All those who long to see good triumph over evil will enjoy this magical story— part fairy tale, part thrilling adventure. Highly recommended for ages ten to adult.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.