Really, this book is more for October or early November, but I was eager to read and review it as the author, Stefan Bachmann, is on my list of authors to watch, as I love his way with words.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first: Being a Christian, reading stories where witches are the heroes, even Harry Potter, a series I like, makes me uncomfortable. Communing with the dead as the witches do in this story, is definitely more how real witches operate–think the witch of Endor from the Bible. Thus, I am reluctant to recommend this story for any child I know. Nevertheless, I do recommend it for older people on certain merits, and you’ll see those below.
That all being said, there’s lots to like about the story. Zita Brydgeborn, a 12-year-old orphan who works as a house maid, receives a letter that she’s inherited a castle. She’s excited and surprised that her family has seemingly found her and leaves at once to go to Blackbird Castle. The castle is fantastic, not unlike the famous Hogwarts, and Bachmann has us on familiar footing as Zita begins to take witch lessons from Mrs. Cantanker, her new guardian. The main theme is also clearly good vs. evil, though the definitions of both things are pressed within the pages of the story, solidifying it more into a fantasy where people when they die go to an underworld to which live humans can still travel. The story sports a lot of fairy tale references, numerous similarities to the HP series, and in the end resoundingly celebrates life, something I can get onboard with. It’s an exciting story with the main character having to constantly reassess what’s being told her and who to trust.
The main thing I like about C&S is the writing. Again, Bachmann has a wonderful gift with words and I can’t wait to see what he writes next. Some of his sentences and phrases I just want to read over and over again. With this book, he shows himself as a clear possible successor to JK Rowling, should he decide to pursue a series in this vein. The plotting was also well done, and I enjoyed the ending, especially the dragon stairs.
Other works I have read by Bachmann are A Drop of Night, a very creepy, quasi-dystopian adventure tale with all things French that would make a cool movie or TV show, and The Peculiar, which delves into pagan lore, and introduced me to his awesome, crackling writing style.
For lovers of the Harry Potter series, I would highly recommend this book as it’s a glimpse as how a different writer may have handled that story. It may be grating for me to mention HP so much along with this story, but the similarities are everywhere, from Zita being an orphan who gets a letter delivered to her by magical means, to the castle with its creatures and changing rooms, to even the plot, where are horrible curse never to be used is used. It was like when I read Eragon and at every turn, there was The Lord of the Rings. A lot of stories are similar and each can be good and treasured in their own right. C&S has enough of its own uniqueness to break with HP by the end.