Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Michael Molloy

The Witch Trade
by Michael Molloy
Recommended Age: 10+

The first children's novel by this accomplished author and sometime editor of the London Daily Mirror is the first in a new series of books that continues with The Time Witches. Full of action, humor, and a charmingly direct style that readers of any age can enjoy, it tells a good clean yarn of a naval and trade war between magical forces of light and darkness.

Nestled on the coast of England is the little town of Speller, once the center of the thriving Witch Trade. There the Sea Witches imported the Ice Dust that England's Light Witches needed for their magic. But the supplies of Ice Dust, deep under the Arctic Ocean, have been used up, and the children of Speller have all been lost in a tragic sea accident, and none of the folk of Speller go to sea anymore. The only children in town now are a girl named Abby, who has lived with her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben since her explorer parents disappeared, and Spike, a sea foundling who has no memory of anything before he was found on the beach.

But Abby and Spike soon learn that the whole town, except for Lucy and Ben, is populated by Sea Witches, and that all their children were abducted by the horrendous Night Witches. These foul creatures of darkness have found a new source of Ice Dust in the Antarctic, and are using it to create a weapon that may finally tilt their millennia-long battle against the Light Witches in their favor.

Joined by the Ancient Mariner and the Master of the Light Witches, as well as a very intelligent albatross named Benbow, the children infiltrate the ice-encrusted island known as Mordoc's Land in a desperate attempt to free the enslaved children, save Abby's parents, rediscover Spike's past, reclaim the Ice Dust deposits for the good guys, elude a deadly sea serpent, AND confront the Master of the Night Witches, the demonic Carstairs Wolfbane (né Snivel Cheeseman). And they have to do all this before the Night Witch's fleet of Shark Boats destroys the Sea Witch fleet that has bravely sailed, for the first time in years, to buy them time.

It's quite an adventure, filled with interesting surprises and hilarious twists. Molloy imagines not only witches, but also elves, sorcerers, conjurers, a great magical library, and the amazing Lost Land where things go that you've forgotten about. But in my opinion, his master stroke is the way Sir Chadwick (the Master of the Light Witches) reveals the traitor in their midst. There is a bit of romance, a lot of adventure, and enough outrageous, funny, and marvelous magical ideas and images for three books. To Harry Potter fans hungering for more than the same, this book is more than a taste: it's a feast.

The Time Witches
by Michael Molloy
Recommended Age: 10+

The sequel to The Witch Trade finds the Grand Master of the Ancient Order of Light Witches, Sir Chadwick Street, about to marry his personal assistant, Miss Hilda Bluebell. All the Sea Witches of Speller are excited to host such a prestigious and joyful occasion, in which all the people who helped defeat the head Night Witch, Wolfbane, are involved.

But Wolfbane is not altogether out of commission. While the wedding plans come to their climax, Wolfbane rejoins his stylish mother, Lucia Cheeseman, and sets in motion a plot to avenge himself on Sir Chadwick, and on young Abby Clover of Speller. First Wolfbane raises the ghost of a witch burned at the stake long ago, to learn her forbidden secret to time travel. Then he kidnaps Hilda Bluebell on her wedding day and whisks her back to the year 1894, where he plans to lure Sir Chadwick and Abby to their destruction.

Time Travel, these days, is controlled by the strange and bureaucratic Wizards, who run both the Ministry of Time and the Ministry of Coincidence. These shady agencies get involved somehow, steering Sir Chadwick, Abby, and their friends wrong in order to keep them from confronting Wolfbane before they accomplish another mission... a mission involving one of Abby's distant ancestors, a friend of elves, in a fate that Wolfbane wants to destroy. And if he succeeds, he destroys Abby and all of Speller too.

Woven in amongst the twists and turns of Wolfbane's sinister plot, the efforts of Sir Chadwick and friends, and the background dealings of the Wizards, are more of the amazing magical ideas that made The Witch Trade such fun to read. There is Paddy the Pooka, a mischievous Irish spirit who usually takes the shape of a donkey. On the other hand, there is Baal, Wolfbane's ghastly new familiar. There are tons of new elves, new spells, new thrills and chills, creatures and dangers and messages from swords, and a bit of show business too. As everybody slowly figures out what is really going on, you are swept along with them in a time-traveling, evil-fighting, funny, romantic, magical adventure.

The book is clear on certain things. Friends stand by each other. Some magic (if not all, really) can only benefit those who use it for good, with kind and pure hearts. Pride, cowardice, and evil are closely related. And of course, be polite to Pookas.

Magical Creatures advisory: Unicorns make a cameo appearance in this book. Herbology advisory: Has anyone heard of elfberries? Potions advisory: Which is worse - Bigger Powder, or Carrion Stew? Occult practices advisory: It should come as no surprise that Wolfbane's spells are really, darkly evil. But it might come as a bit of a surprise to see Light Witches, like Abby and Sir Chadwick, trying to get in contact with the spirit of Ma Hemlock. Occult-sensitive readers, take note.

The Wild West Witches
by Michael Molloy
Recommended Age: 12+

This is the third tale in a series featuring up-and-coming "Light Witch" Abby Clover and her best friend Spike.

This time, Abby's Dark Witch nemesis, Wolfbane, has hatched another evil scheme to destroy all the Light Witches-starting with Abby and her friends-and take over the world. To give you an idea, without giving away too much, it involves a new and more powerful source of Black Dust that is more powerfully evil than any weapon Wolfbane has wielded before. In order to get this Black Dust, Wolfbane must get hold of a powerful tool of pure goodness: the sword Excalibur. And to get Excalibur, Wolfbane must hunt down Abby and her party, who have eluded his grasp by going back in time to the Wild West.

Back, more precisely, to the troubled town of Silver Springs, Arizona, in the year 1886. Back to a place where not all melodrama is played out on the stage of the town's theatre. For Silver Springs has its own villain, the appropriately named Bart Stoneheart. As if stealing land and cattle, and enslaving a whole valley full of people to toil in his silver mine isn't bad enough, Stoneheart also wants to meddle with the ending of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

This is too much for Abby's friend and mentor, chief Light Witch and thespian Sir Chadwick Street, who joins Abby and Spike in her adventure. Also coming along are Sir Chadwick's wife and acting partner Hilda, the ancient mariner called Captain Starlight, and a magician known as the Great Mandini. But even the safety of numbers does not seem to be enough, when Wolfbane and his evil parents are at large and incognito, and the whole party has only a wandful of Ice Dust with which to fight back against their evil scheme.

To those of you who haven't read The Witch Trade and The Time Witches, none of what I have just said will make any sense. But take my word for it, this is an enjoyable tale set in a unique world of magic. And coming from a British point of view, it is particularly interesting for me to see my own home state* adorned with majesty and magic and wide-eyed wonder (and yes, the climate really is as described in the book). Real history, imaginative fantasy, humor, action, anagram spells, campy villains, and arty types who unexpectedly prove to be dashing heroes, add up to make this a book Harry Potter fans will enjoy.

*UPDATE: Former home state, that is.

EDIT: Michael Molloy is also the author of The House on Falling Star Hill, Dogsbody (not to be confused with the similarly titled book by Diana Wynne Jones), the Peter Raven series, and other titles.

1 comment:

Maithri Hegde said...


I'd read The Witch Trade when I was 10, and was enchanted by the tale. All this while, I've been oblivious to the fact that it was part of a series - discovering it was such a delight.I haven't been able to get the books yet,and this review went a long way to sate my curiosity, for the present.Thanks for the review!