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The Witch's Boy    by Michael Gruber order for
Witch's Boy
by Michael Gruber
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTempest, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It begins 'Once upon a time ...' but is neither a traditional fairy tale, nor the usual style of fantasy. It's about a boy, an ugly foundling left for a witch to rear in the middle of a forest. She calls him Lump and keeps him, prompted by unusual stirrings in her heart. Her familiar, a remarkable, large, ragged gray tomcat named Falance, has strong reservations - about both this powerful witch's initial decision and her approach to raising a child - but she is determined. Being very busy about her own affairs, the witch hires a nanny, a bear named Ysul, and assigns as tutor, a demon named Bagordax.

Naturally, things go awry, particularly with the demon, who has his own agenda, seeking his freedom. The boy meets his own kind, is treated cruelly, and seeks revenge. To save him from the consequences and give her adopted son a taste of the magic he's longed for, the witch makes an enormous sacrifice, one that the boy, selfish as young people often are, does not properly value. Their lives change and Lump sees a wider world, hidden behind a mask to obscure his features. Disaster strikes again, after Lump seeks to impress a lovely, brainless, selfish young woman. He and his mother are forced to go their separate ways.

They do meet again, after life experiences mature the witch's boy into someone the reader can finally like. It's a wonderful tale of the selfishness of youth and the power of maternal love, but what makes it even better are the unusual fairy tale re-tellings scattered throughout. We meet a spoiled teenager of a Cinderella, a good witch who saves Hansel and Gretel, a new take on Rumpelstiltskin, Bluebeard's blind daughter, and more. And both the witch and her boy do finally win their heart's desires. Don't miss The Witch's Boy, a delightful fantasy that can be appreciated at many levels.

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