The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill | Book Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill | Book ReviewThe Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill
Also by this author: The Mostly True Story of Jack
Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill on 2014-09-16
Genres: Action & Adventure, Family, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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“A lightning bolt erupted from the cloud and aimed directly at Ned’s heart. He couldn’t cry out. He couldn’t even move. He could just feel the magic sink into his skin and spread itself over every inch of him, bubbling and slithering and cutting deep, until he didn’t know where the magic stopped and he began.”

When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it's Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?

With a deft hand, acclaimed author Kelly Barnhill takes classic fairy tale elements--speaking stones, a friendly wolf, and a spoiled young king--and weaves them into a richly detailed narrative that explores good and evil, love and hate, magic, and the power of friendship.

Way back in the day I read The Mostly True Story Of Jack by Kelly Barnhill for the Cybils awards and I thought it was totally awesome and unfortunately I have not read anything by Barnhill SINCE then which was like 2011 aka what feels like a decade ago. Luckily, I had the fortunate happenstance of wandering past the signing for Barnhill’s latest, The Witch’s Boy at BEA and by serendipity ended up with a signed copy. Oh, you guys, Barnhill is still magical and awesome and has this wonderful way with words. As far as middle grade writers go, she is one of my favorites and with good reason. The Witch’s Boy is comprised of a solid plot, flawed main characters, a key animal player, and rigid rules regarding magic. In other words, I loved it.

The Witch’s Boy essentially opens with two little boys who decide to take a raft out on the river and to the sea. Tragedy strikes and one of the boys dies, while the other is left behind. The boy’s mother, a witch, sews his dead brother’s soul to his body and so, Ned, finds words jumbled up when he reads and when he speaks. Despite this, he’s a good boy, brave and pure of heart. Meanwhile, a Bandit King comes along to steal the magic of Ned’s mother, because she has the only magic left in the world in a jar in her house. Ned, however, saves the day and saves the magic much to the Bandit King’s dismay. Yet, the Bandit King does not give up. In the forest, lives the Bandit King’s daughter, Aine, who is a young girl who just wants her dad to come home and for them to be a happy family seeing as how her dad’s changed since her mom died. Anyways, Aine and Ned meet up, I won’t say how, and begin this long journey together. Also, there’s a wolf. And yes, plenty of magic.

Ned and Aine are intriguing main characters in that they feel like they are on parallel journeys. Granted, Ned has magic to deal with. He has both parents. However, he has experienced loss like Aine, in that his brother has died. I felt that the character growth for the two seemed like a mirror – both gained so much from all they had to do. Both have realizations and grow from what they learn. I love that. I loved that Ned starts the book unsure of himself and feeling like he truly is the wrong boy. I love that he takes the magic from the pot without worrying about the risk, simply to protect it. As for Aine, she’s a selfish girl on the surface. You think that she’s just using poor Ned until you delve a little bit deeper, until you take the time to understand her story. She’s a lonely girl who has been dealt an awful card when it comes to her dad, he used to be great but now it’s like he’ll never be satisfied. Aine’s primary goal is to help him, so yeah, I can totally get her motivations.

What’s cool about The Witch’s Boy is that it has these rules for magic. First off, only one person has magic and that’s Ned’s mom and by extension his family. The magic requires a lot of energy to use and so, once it’s used the user has to like rest for a week because it takes a lot out of them. Furthermore, the magic is not all powerful. It’s not even of Ned’s world. That’s right, it has to do with some like witches and wizards from some other world who were afraid of death. That’s all I can say. Oh and there’s talking rocks. AND there are two kingdoms who are apart who are not aware that the other exists. And there’s war.

After finishing Barnhill’s latest book, I had the biggest sense of satisfaction from it. I mean, the book resolves all the loose threads so there’s no need for a sequel. There’s this feeling of fullness inside after I closed the last page. Clearly, I am a fan of that. I want to say I think you all should give this book a shot. It feels like an old school fairy tale with some gruesome moments, but also with some moments that will make you want to believe in magic.

Who Should Read This Book?

  • Middle Grade newbies
  • People who are very insistent about following rules
  • People who like stories about kids who do things
  • People who like stories about flawed girls
  • People who like stories about flawed boys
  • People who like wolves
  • People who like books with complicated family relationships
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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Ah!! I seriously need to read one of her books already, everything about them (including your review) just screams that I’m going to love them. I still have Iron Hearted Violet from several BEAs ago untouched. I love that they’re stand alones and have these unique magic structures, and the adorable covers sure don’t hurt.

  2. This looks good!

  3. This book sounds so adorable and tempting. I find that I am having a lot of luck with middle grade books. The description sounds so creepy yet touching, just like a Claire Legrand book.

    I want this one NOW.

  4. Awesome! I grabbed this at BEA as well but wasn’t sure about it and now I’m very much convinced that I have to get to it asap. As a middle grade fantasy lover, I think this is going to be an absolutely perfect book for me as long as the gruesome bits don’t freak me out too much 😉 Also yey wolves!