When a party of High Witches arrives on Earth, the latent magical powers of children are released. This has far-reaching effects: no-one goes to school; in some places, child-thieves and child-gangs are effectively unstoppable, except by other children; parents are jealous of their children’s powers, since magic is lost at adolescence. The Witches hunt down all the children who are showing signs of magical ability and indoctrinate and train them for use in their never ending fight against the Wizards.
Among all this, 12-year-old Rachel stands out as the first to have her magic released and in many ways as the most powerful. Her younger brother Eric has the unique talent of undoing magic, destroying a spell forever. They liaise with Larpskendya, chief of the Wizards, who is watching for signs that the Witches are ready to attack the Earth. When the attack comes, they are hard put to it to defend themselves. Rachel and Eric must travel to the Witches’ own planet where they form alliances and attempt to put an end to the Witches. Rachel must finally face the embittered Heiki, an abandoned child who has been trained by the Witches to hate all grown-ups, in order to rescue her brother and all the children from the Witches in the Arctic Circle.
All the books in this series show tremendous imaginative qualities: the ugliness of the witches, the notion of the spells as semi-sentient, the effect on the children of having their magic released stand out among other aspects. There is a slight mixture of styles. By having the point-of-view character shift from chapter to chapter, the author makes the story easy for a younger audience. However, some of the subtlety needed to unravel the strands of the plot might be beyond such readers.
In one respect, this book stands out from others with gifted children who are out to save the world. In general, such a setup results in the adults being at best sidelined, and at worst despised. Here, Rachel and Eric’s own parents, perfectly normal people, are still very close to their children and indeed continue to treat them as children, despite their special powers. Rachel and Eric are also very close in spite of The Witches who encourage vicious competitiveness to inculcate a selfish individualism among the children.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of goodtoread.org.