While many fantasy protagonists are living their normal life until they are called to their quest, Betty Widdershins — the main character of Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic — is eager to set off on an adventure. Any adventure. As long as it gets her out of the rundown community where she lives, a quartet of islands surrounded by marshy waters and dominated by the large prison on one of those islands.
But as she quickly learns when she tries to leave, far-off adventure doesn’t seem to be in the cards. A family curse says that any Widdershins woman who leaves Crowstone or the nearby islands will die at the next sunset. And the Widdershins name (like its dictionary definition) is associated with bad luck throughout the area.
This grim fortune is offset a bit by the titular pinch of magic passed down through the generations: three magical artifacts that can let you see far afield, turn invisible, or travel anywhere instantly (within the curse-defined bounds, of course, lest you activate your literal deadline). Betty decides to use those items to break the curse.
Those plans get fast-tracked when her older and younger sister are kidnapped by a malicious convict they’ve accidentally helped escape. At that point, Betty has no choice but to follow, setting the clock ticking for all three girls. Along the way, she learns of a sorceress who was imprisoned a century or more earlier and whom Betty feels is crucial to unraveling the curse. (Spoiler: she’s right)
My daughter eagerly read this book, finding in the magical objects a kinship with the “uncommon” objects in the Uncommoners series. When I read it after her, though, I was surprised she was able to finish this tense story. The escaped convict is mean and heartless — he knows he’s dooming the two kidnapped girls to death but doesn’t care, and the harbingers of Betty’s impending death — the cawing of unseen crows, a heavy rock that magically appears in her pocket, the feeling of falling fast — add an anxious backdrop to the dramatic rescue. I could barely put it down as the girls raced to the conclusion of their tale.
Unsurprisingly for a middle-grade fantasy, everything works out okay in the end. The Widdershins girls get through their adventure because they work together as sisters and empathize with the long-dead sorceress. If your reader appreciates gripping adventure and celebrations of sisterhood and family, this is a book that I’m sure will resonate with them. It deftly breaks up the tension with humor and warmth and friendship throughout.
This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.