Firstly, I offer my warmest apologies. It’s been a really busy time at work as we are in the middle of another mock cycle. We’re done two papers out of four in English so I seem to spend my time marking plenty! I’m just so sorry I’m so rubbish!
However, I am back to catch up with you all and to share with you the book I chose from Waterstones Book of the Month list for February: A Pinch of Magic. As you can see, this book is beautiful!
What’s it all about?
The novel opens with the story of a girl gazing out of the window in Crowstone Tower where she is being kept prisoner. The next day she knew she was being taken to the gallows for being a supposed witch.
“Using the stone, she scratched on the inside walls as if she were writing with chalk. She wrote out a single word: a name… the one who had wronged her.”
Fast forward to Betty Windershins’s 13th birthday where she learns about the family curse. It’s a busy Saturday night in The Poacher’s Pocket, the local pub and their home. Betty lives there with her grandma, Betty (Bunny to avoid confusion) and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie. It’s Halloween too and Betty is determined to go out and play. However, she wants to travel a little further, across the ferry to Marshfoot where there was a fairground. Fliss declines the invitation, becoming more of a killjoy in Betty’s opinion since her own birthday. They board the ferry almost tasting freedom when all doesn’t seem quite as expected. Bunny appears!
‘The boat lurched again as a familiar figure looked over the two girls. Betty gave a squeak of surprise as someone pushed their face to hers, almost nose to nose.’
Absolutely certain that Granny had not been on the boat when they left, this journey raised more questions than answers. Naturally, Bunny was furious with the girls. Betty being naturally curious, tries to work out how their granny knew where they were and what they were doing. She desperately wants answers which she finally gets after a short journey in which they all hold onto each other and use a carpet bag for their travels. It is time for the girls to sit down with their grandmother to find out exactly what all that was about. Much to Betty’s surprise, her sister Fliss doesn’t see phased by it at all. It is revealed that she was told the story on her own birthday. It was Bunny’s time to tell them all.
“There are three items… three gifts, if you like. Each of them is an everyday object. Each of them holds a different kind of power. I call it a pinch of magic.”
The three everyday objects that held hidden secrets were the carpet bag, a mirror and a set of nesting dolls. These items had been passed down the family for 150 years and would continue to do so. Each item belongs to a specific person and they each do different magic things. The girls are naturally quite fascinated. Betty knows that the items could help them with seeing their father who is currently in prison. As amazing as these items are, they come with a price. The Widdershins family are cursed.
“The truth is, we’re cursed… all of us. No Widdershins girl has ever been able to leave Crowstone. If we do, we’ll die by the next summer.”
Betty hopes it’s just wishful thinking. However, Bunny has seen for herself what happens. The crows’ chorus followed by the person becoming colder and colder. Despite feeling like ice, the last thing you feel is the cold kiss. Then it’s the end. They know the curse has been triggered because a stone falls from the Tower over at Repent island where all the prisoners, including their father are. Despite all the warnings, Betty has this deep desire to break the curse, no matter what the costs. And so the adventure begins.
After searching at home, Betty finds some letters from her grandmother to her father and vice versa. All is not what it seems as it appears that their father has been moved from prison. Bunny had stopped replying to him but continued to visit the prison. Prisoner number 513 becomes of great importance to Betty so she decides she must visit him with Fliss to see why her grandmother kept returning there. The prison looked cruel by daylight, worse by evening light. It oozes misery. Prisoner 513, Colton by name it disappointingly ordinary. But it is his knowledge that the girls are desperate to acquire. He said he knew how to break the curse. The cost of this information, the bag. His ticket out of prison. His freedom card.
‘Four tiny words, with such enormous power. Betty tensed, like a bow string that had been pulled back, ready to fire.’
A regular visitor to The Poacher’s Pocket who could hold the key to some information is Fingerty. He’s an ex prisoner but also incredibly rude and cold. It would be very difficult to get information from him but Betty firmly believes that it is worth a try. After some free alcohol he tells the story of Sorsha Spellthorn. The general belief was that she was a witch which resulted in her being locked in the tower. The narration then changes to Sorsha and we hear about her awful childhood where she was a clear target. She ended up trusting someone who she shouldn’t have. This information inspires a deep need within Betty to try and break the curse. The girls decide to leave.
“Granny, it said, we’re sorry. We’ve taken your bag and gone to break the curse. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Please don’t come looking for us, and please don’t be too angry. Betty & Fliss.”
However, Charlie catches them. Despite Betty following the instructions about the bag, it doesn’t work. They’ve forgotten one crucial piece of information: the items only work for their owner. Granny owns it now and then it will be Charlie’s. Charlie takes matters into her own hands, shouting the command of where they wish to go, much to Betty’s surprise. A larger surprise was waiting for them when they got to the prison. Unfortunately, Charlie got the number confused and they ended up in a cell with a rather awful prisoner called Jarrod.
“Why would you be carrying an empty bag, eh? This is how you got in here? Is it a portal or summat?”
‘He held the bag out in front of him, fitting it over his huge foot like an ugly, misshapen slipper.’
They get Colton out but Jarrod is nowhere to be found. They’ve no choice but to continue to get information from Colton. Betty desperately wants to break the curse but in a rather heartbreaking way, we learn that Colton lied for his freedom. He knows nothing. What’s worse, Jarrod appears after lurking in the shadows knowing everything. He takes Charlie, Fliss and the bag with him. Betty absolutely will not leave them. The curse is triggered.
What happens next over the course of the novel is adventure and desperation. Betty is determined to break the curse and get Fliss, Charlie and the bag back. Betty and Colton get a boat and travel over the very dangerous and notorious Devil’s Teeth. They hear the wardens however, there is also another surprise. Fingerty. He joins them and continues to tell the rest of Sorsha’s story. It’s a story of help, broken trust and envy.
‘Jealous… wants what you have… a mother always knows.’
Back to the now and the girls use the dolls to see each other. Betty is adamant that she is not going to leave her sisters behind, no matter what the cost. Whilst they continue the journey, Fingerty tells Betty and Colton the rest of Sorsha’s story. Her sister was jealous of the magic she possessed. She wanted it for herself which was exactly what their mother had thought all along. Whilst in deep betrayal caused by her sister, Sorsha picks ordinary looking objects to transfer her powers to. Her earlier help has to come to and end. However, it’s too late. She ends up in the tower. When her sister Pru arrives to see her, she’s changed and she lies. Sorsha is so angry that she curses her sister and all future Widdershins after her.
‘Perhaps there was a way she could have her revenge, even if she couldn’t save herself. For while she no longer had her magic, a curse was something different. A curse could come from darkness. And what could be darker than death.’
Eventually the girls are reunited and Betty has an idea of how she can break the curse. It’s always risky but it has to be worth it. After all, the Crow’s Chorus is only ever getting louder. However, this is where Colton’s part comes to an end. He doesn’t want to return to be put back into prison. So he stays behind. The girls press onward to the tower to prevent the curse. Betty meets Sorsha and tries to make her see sense. They become friends, real sisters and each girl gives Sorsha their magic items back. By the end of the novel, harmony is restored. There is no curse. It’s all over.
‘She was Betty the Brave, Betty the Explorer. And with her sisters at her side, she was ready for anything.’
This book was truly magical. There’s a reason why it’s Waterstone’s book of the month for February and March. It’s a real adventure and I was gripped the whole time I was reading. Magic does funny things to readers as it completely takes you in and you become a part of it. I loved Sorsha and felt her pain. I also admired Betty’s sheer determination and resilience. A great book!
Big love to you all!! I promise to be better. Off to catch up with you all now. ❤️