#MGReview: The October Witches by Jennifer Claessen

Cover artwork by Heidi Olivia Cannon, published by Uclan Publishing,
1st September 2022

A magical refashioning of the Arthurian legend, this middle grade coming of age story set amongst an unpredictable family of witches is a must for Halloween book selections this year. Narrator, Clemmie is the type of girl to which every reader can relate. She is worried about upcoming exams at school; is desperate to be liked by her slightly older, cool cousin Mirabelle; and clearly loves her family but maybe wishes they could be a bit more normal!

Clemmie shares a crowded, run down house on Pendragon Road with her mum, Patty, Aunts Prudie, Connie and Flissie and cousin Mirabelle and for eleven months of the year life is relatively normal. However, every October the older family members receive their magic and the household goes crazy for a month…and in this, her twelfth October, Clemmie expects to receive her magic and fully become a member of the coven! She joins the rest of the Merlyn family on their night time expedition to the allotted location for magic gathering and gets her first glimpse of their bitter rivals, the Morgan coven, sensing the enmity that exists between the two branches of the witchy world and little knowing the adventure that she will be pulled into.

I won’t describe the plot in any detail for fear of giving away spoilers. Suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative which was pacy, perfectly pitched for readers of 9+ with gripping twists and turns, betrayals, unlikely alliances, peril, a magnificent villain in Aunt Morgan and some arch humour. Author Jennifer Claessen has wonderfully captured the voice of a twelve year old girl for whom bodily changes are causing uncertainty and nervousness and a growing awareness of family secrets causes confusion. Clemmie is a thoroughly engaging character and I rooted for her to gain control of her powers throughout. The relatable family dynamics are brilliantly entwined in a clever take on Arthurian legend, with the thirst for eternal power leading to a dramatic and vivid magical battle.

Although on the surface this is a story about witchy family feuds I felt that there was a deeper truth contained within the narrative; that of the younger generation breaking free of the chaos and mess created by their ancestors and forging a new truth and way of living. If you want a story that demonstrates the power of family loyalty, questions what we mean by magic and is thoroughly entertaining too, then add The October Witches to your Halloween wish list.

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson and Uclan Publishing for sending me a proof copy of The October Witches prior to publication on 1st September 2022.

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