So, when Sir Terry Pratchett died in March, and we descended into the fifty year mourning period, there was the tiniest, infinitesimal twinkle of light in a dark place. All was not lost. There were other authors. One of them was even well versed in drawing wombats, and she was going to take a stab at publishing a novel, in her actual own name this time (instead of writing as T. Kingfisher). When this little novel came out in April, it was a little piece of heaven, just in the nick of time.
Summary: A somewhat run-down manor in a very small village, Castle Hangnail is in dire need of a new Master. Its Minions, who call the Castle home, are deeply worried that if no real Master has come along to take up residence, the authorities will come along and de-magic the place, and they'll be homeless. So, when a wee girl named Molly comes along and announces herself as a Wicked Witch... well, minions need a strong Master, and a Wicked Witch is much nicer than an Evil Sorceress or a dread Vampire Lord, right? It's just... she looks about twelve. And, her magic is... somewhat unimpressive. When she begins to check off the requirements of a Master put out by the Board of Magic, most of the Minions are inclined to be impressed, but one of them longs for a REAL Master to put things to rights. And then one comes. Readers learn that not only should Minions be careful what they wish for, but that Wicked Witches, even ones who have told a tiny lie that has grown beyond them - have to stand up for what they believe, and sometimes say, "No."
Peaks: Molly is an eminently likeable, eminently sensible, perfectly reasonable... Wicked Witch. As opposed to EVIL witch, she just... likes her space, doesn't need pink, glitter, or kittens about, and is partial to the odd magical mole or bone chandelier. She's observant, and works her way through the myriad challenges to her Castle tenure with boots-on good sense. I could read more Molly adventures, any day.
Like the Potter books, this latest Vernon novel is a nice long middle grade fantasy, which makes my inner fifth grader pretty darned happy. There's enough of a story here to get into it, to look forward to coming back to it, and to make for many breathless bedtime readings.
And then there's the illustrations! Myriad Digger and Danny Dragonbreath novels, Ursula Vernon's various art sites and online journals and alllll of the things from Red Wombat Studios have already let her fans know just how well-versed she is with the art - the graphic novels, painting, clay and leather modeling, doodling, etc. The artwork in this book is SO nice a touch - not only can the lady tell a darned good story, but she makes it jump off the page.
I love the Minions, who are mostly the supporting cast, but sometimes have the lead in the story. I love that this book has quirk, but not in exhausting supply. Sure, the cook may have the head of a cow, but she's ...otherwise pretty typical (if you ignore that Q thing). The goofy but endearing group of supporters is what everyone would be lucky to have. I need minions!
Another peak for me is the plot layering - and that's a thing at which Terry Pratchett excelled, and the rest of us can only hope to emulate as well as Vernon. If the child in you is alive and well, you, too, will find much to love in this book, and much to inform you even in your adult state. For very young readers who enjoy fantasy, there are lots of fun beasties and small, magical moments -- for older kids, it crosses really well into tween/teen territory due to its subtly funny bits and its emotional resonance - Molly's eventual realization of the truths of Eudaimonia is one of the "ribs" of the body of the plot, as it were. Like the Tiffany Aching books, which also broadly appealed for a more physical humor/adventure trope, this novel would have been fun without the internal arc of emotional truth, but it would not have stood as tall or appealed to so many.
There are so many positives to this novel, but if I mention them all, I'm going to get into spoilers, so I'll suggest that you just pick it up. Go on, now.
Valleys: No valleys, except that there's no sequel immediately to hand. I need to reread the Digger books and BRYONY AND ROSES (review to follow shortly!). I need this author to keep writing...
Conclusion: RUN, don't walk, to the library and pick up a copy of this book - and then buy yourself a copy, because it's the sort of thing you'll want to keep. This author remains one whose work we'll be enjoying for years to come.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library, but you can bet this one is going to be purchased and put into the permanent home library. You can find CASTLE HANGNAIL by Ursula Vernon at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!