Saturday, October 10, 2020

"The Last Windwitch" - Jennifer Adam

It's always a special thing to read an author's debut and such is the case with Jennifer Adam's middle-grade fantasy "The Last Windwitch," an April 2021 release from HarperCollins Children's Books."The Last Windwitch" introduces us to the world of Brida, a young hedgewitch apprentice living quite contentedly in the small village of Oak Hollow trying to live into the gift she is constantly told she possesses but which she has great difficulty manifesting with any consistency.

We know rather early on in "The Last Windwitch" that there is more to Brida's life than meets the eye, though my guess is that middle-grade readers will be less quick to become fully aware of Brida's journey and the rather fantastic places that it goes.

Working under the watchful eye of Mother Magdi, Brida is both a disciplined apprentice and a curious child, possessing a curiosity that we all tend to know is going to lead to more than a little bit of trouble. Eventually, she catches the eye of her kingdom's wicked queen who aspires to possess as much power as possible.

If you've seen the cover for "The Last Windwitch," it rather beautifully captures very much how I felt while reading the book. Adam beautifully develops the character of Brida as a young child growing into her skills and the responsibility for which she has been born.

It's not surprising, of course, that she is born with great purpose and that purpose will be revealed by the end of "The Last Windwitch."

Before long, Brida will be on the run from the Queen's Huntsman, an intimidating man who seemingly pops up everywhere and who is tasked with presenting the revealed to be gifted Brida to the queen. Along the way, Brida will meet friends and foes, adoring animals and dastardly beasts. She will encounter the Queen's Crow-spies and will learn the truth about her family, her magic, and the life into which she was born. She may very well learn that even as a little girl she is born with the gifts that will help defeat the wicked queen and restore the kingdom to its rightful place.

"The Last Windwitch" is a delightful tale, a patient journey at 448 pages that takes its time setting the stage for Brida's journey and for enfolding us into the fantasy world in which Brida's journey is set. Adam sets the stage slowly, perhaps a bit too slowly, but in most ways that patience is worth it as we become immersed in the lives of these characters and by tale's end we care about their resolution. While the beginning unfolds a tad slowly, the climactic conflicts seem to unfold rather abruptly and made me wish we had a little more time to really savor Brida's unfolding gifts and how they weave themselves into the conflict and the story's resolution.

However, these are minor quibbles, truly, for a story that engaged me from beginning to end and kept me thoroughly delighted with characters such as Brida, Magdi, Hush, and others whose relevance shall remain secret in this review. Even ancillary characters are developed nicely here, not always true in children's lit and yet essential to the story's success.

"The Last Windwitch" is very much an immersive story. Jennifer Adam is an engaging, visual storyteller and I found myself quite often reading more slowly and surrendering myself to the story unfolding in my heart and in my mind.

Fans of Shannon Hale and Kelly Barnhill will find much to appreciate here and there seems little doubt that HarperCollins has given to us an imaginative, gifted writer whose creatively yet intelligently constructed fantasy world is destined to delight middle-grade readers.