Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Pinch of Magic

A Pinch of Magic
by Michelle Harrison
Recommended Ages: 12+

The middle Widdershins sister, Betty dreams of getting off the island of Crowstone and seeing the world. But her Granny, who runs a run-down tavern called the Poacher's Pocket, keeps a short apron-string on her and the other girls, Fliss and Charlie. One night when Betty attempts a daring escape, Granny brings her home with the aid of a teleporting carpet bag. No longer can she be kept in the dark about her family's secret: Each of the three girls is heir to a magical object – the traveling bag, a mirror of spying and a set of nesting dolls that can turn people invisible. But they are also heirs to a family curse that keeps any female born or married into the Widdershins family from leaving the island chain of the Misty Marshes. It all goes back, somehow, to a woman more than 100 years ago who threw herself to her death out of a prison tower on the day she was to be hanged for sorcery. But the upshot of it is, if the girls cross outside the boundaries of Crowstone and its island neighbors of Repent, Lament and Torment, three things will happen: (1) A stone will fall out of the tower; (2) They will be driven bonkers by the cawing of crows inside their heads; and (3) They will die at sunset.

Betty is devastated by the news that she is trapped for life in Crowstone. But a clue in Granny's laundry leads the girls to hope there may be a way to break the curse that nobody has tried in 100 years. Unfortunately, to find out what it is, they have to spring an inmate from the prison on Repent. And when they do, things go wrong that doom Fliss and Charlie to a cursèd fate if Betty doesn't actually break the curse by the end of the day. This will mean continuing to rely on the help of an escaped convict who has already proven unreliable, listening to a bitter old informer's story about the reason for her family's gifts and curse, and pursuing her sisters and their captor into forbidden territory – which means Betty's life, too, is now at stake.

The sisters' adventure forces them to face up to shameful facts about their family history and guilty knowledge about themselves – such as the destructive power of envy. More subtly, it's also a study of how women can feel trapped in their role, how folks in a rural community can be sacrificially kind on one level and unforgivingly judgy on another, and maybe how a small change can completely rewrite reality. Trimmed around the edges with humor, wild adventure and spooky atmospherics, it has at its heart an emotionally deep family drama that challenges readers to imagine a multi-generational tragedy and the possibility of making it better.

This is the first book of of a series that Michelle Harrison's website dubs the "Widdershins Adventures." Its sequels to-date are A Sprinkle of Sorcery, A Tangle of Spells and A Storm of Sisters. Harrison is also the author of the four-book "13 Treasures Trilogy," the "Midnight Magic" trilogy (featuring a magical cat named Midnight), the spooky novel Unrest and The Other Alice, in which characters from an author's notebook come to life.

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