Published by Starling Books
Review by Christina Jane
In Witch Born, Nicholas Bowling creates a new take on Victorian England. Witch Born is his debut novel, but alongside writing he also does a lot of stand-up, and teaches Latin in south London. While he was writing the novel, he performed a show at the Edinburgh festival.
The book begins with the main character’s mother Ellen who tries hard to conceal her witchcraft and anything which could condemn her, just to buy her daughter more time. She does manage to achieve her goal and protect her daughter from harm, but at a fatal cost.
Chapter one opens with a witch hunter, the one who caught and killed Ellen, but he soon meets his end shortly after we are introduced to him – all because of an innocent little girl. After taking everything she ever loved or cared about from her, she just as easily takes everything from him, with just a little stroke of a knife. Even though she stabbed him with ease and was calm throughout the entire process, it was still a traumatic event for her; she needed to make sure he was dead, so she stayed alongside him until his last breath.
The story then progresses with the little girl named Alyce who knows nothing about the outside world, as she tries to make her way to London to deliver a letter: a letter her mother wrote to ensure her safety. It seems like a simple task, but not when there are witch hunters hunting you down, tracking your every move.
One of my favourite things about Alyce is how much her character progresses. At the beginning, she doesn’t have any friends and the only human interaction she had was with her mother. She had very little knowledge about the outside world so it was surprising that she coped as well as she did, even with the amount she was struggling. But she manages to transform herself into someone who has good, trustworthy friends. She becomes someone who could talk at ease with total strangers and never stops asking questions. She has so much confidence by the end of the book, which was an amazing accomplishment in itself. She even manages to manipulate people on multiple occasions, but in her defence this was for a good reason. Things could have easily gone bad and they could have been hurt. There’s a very thin line between what is good and evil and sometimes that line can become blurred.
Another interesting character is a boy named Solomon, who has a similar story to Alyce. They are both orphans and children of witches. A big difference though is that Alyce’s mother taught her all about magic, since she knew what it was and how to control it. Solomon knew pretty much nothing in comparison, other than that it existed. He read some advanced books on it but he admitted they didn’t make much sense to him, so his knowledge was very limited.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. It was deeply captivating the moment I started reading. It is fast paced so there isn’t time for lots of dialogue. There was a good amount of dialogue; it didn’t go on for pages and pages, but it didn’t have too little either. There was never a boring page and something new seemed to happen very frequently, which made it very captivating. Since this is his debut book, I will look forward to reading more books by Nicholas Bowling in the future and hopefully they are all as amazing as this one.