Illustrated by Tim Tilley
For ages 9+
I have Tim Tilley's preceding middle grade book 'Harklights' on my bookshelf. I've had it on my bookshelf since early 2021 with every intention of reading it (along with many other books that regularly look at me with 'Sad Sam' - pardon the 80s reference - eyes from my TBR pile). Tim Tilley, from the heart, hands up, I regret I have missed out. I remember life back then, just over a year ago, managing a very busy children's bookshop and the rest, and not having as much time as I'd have liked to be able to read. Where many proofs have been passed on or destroyed, 'Harklights' has been guarded - I haven't been able to part with it. When Usborne, very kindly sent me through their October offerings, amongst them all 'Witchstorm' immediately caught my eye and here we are.
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About the book
Don't let the timely publication date of this book, a few weeks before Hallowe'en, be your only reason for picking it up off the shop or library shelf. Yes, the cover obviously screams 'witches', however, in my opinion, this is an all year round story. This is a story about nature, about nurturing our Fenlands and meadows, keeping the balance of human vs all other living organisms' planetary existence and survival in equilibrium for all our sakes. For the middle grade reader who adores stories about the British countryside dappled with folklore and magic... Tim Tilley is an author for you to add to your favourites list.
Will, his Ma and Fa live on the aptly named 'Kingfisher', a river boat on the Fenlands. Apart from a duck called 'Waddle' he has a best friend called Alfie, well that is 'had', until a bully called Cole (whose dad is big into carving up the countryside to plant factories) stole him away. Will has always grown up with folklore and stories. His Ma and Fa have passed on their closeness to the land and to nature. There's even mythical a family song about one of Ma's distant relatives from the 1600s who once rescued a witch called Agatha Crow and hid her away from harm - that's an indication of how long the family has lived on the sacred Fenlands.
Ma and Will regularly head out birdwatching, or walking the meadows, but one day Ma doesn't return home. Search parties and police try to find clues to her disappearance and fail. Only, Will has his mother's precious notebook and only Will knows his Ma's ways - thankfully. With his mind made up to find his Ma himself, Will heads to nearby Crow Rock and here begins his exciting adventure. He encounters something his Ma has left for him to find, an amulet - could this be Agatha Crow's treasure? Agatha Crow is real?
Together with his mother's sister, Aunt Hera, an gung-ho archeologist, and a new found friend, Magda, a witch Will's age, Will enters the world of Agatha Crow. Madga introduces him to the Way of the Witches, 'Skycroft' their magical home in the clouds, and the nightmare that is Hildreth - self-appointed leader of the Coven and of an enchanted Witch army on a mission to destroy the 'Grounder' (trans. human) world.
Why does Hildreth want to do this? Humans have destroyed the lands with their factories, driven animals, fish and birds to extinction; rare plants have been lost. He seeks the 'Stormstone' in order to bring about a great change, which will leave witches in charge forever. Until humans developed technologies that led to polluting the planet, witches and humans lived in harmony, trading and leaving each to their own ways of life. 'Wandwood' trees (oak, ash or birch trees with red leaves instead of green) have now all but been cut down by 'Grounders' - these are the trees that supply the wood to make wands and broomsticks, and the magic that powers Skycroft itself.
Once Will understands the bigger picture, his quest to save his Ma becomes a quest to save humanity. He has a burning passion to save his home no matter the cost. Together with Aunt Hera and Magda, he must solve a 300 year old set of clues left by Agatha. He must get to the Stormstone before Hildreth does - "adventure is facing fear, and finding out how far you can go", he realises. Whether it's a story from the 1600s or written today, Will finds out that stories can change the world!
Tilley's energy for conservation and love of nature vibrates through his words and unique illustrative style as adders, crows, wild flowers, reed warblers, godwits or swans and more. The reader is treated to an exciting adventure and mysteries to solve in a race against time and evil. After 'The End', Tilley talks to us about 'The Importance of Meadows' and writes of 'Ways to become a Meadow Maker'. Clearly, 'Witchstorm' carries a vital message to our young people to take care of and respect our beautiful countryside, and speaks to the courage and unified voice they'll need in the future to be heard and to make the right decisions for our planet's survival. I'm looking forward to making time for 'Harklights' and anything else Tilley writes in the future.
About the creator
Tim Tilley (author + illustrator)
Tim Tilley studied illustration at Anglia Ruskin University and now teaches children's book illustration courses at City Lit. He is always watchful of the world around him and loves collecting and drawing beautiful snapshots of nature, relishing the small things people often miss. Tim's debut children's book, the bestselling and critically-acclaimed Harklights, is the winner of the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize and the Junior Design Award.
Grab a copy
Buy here through my affiliate link at Bookshop.org or purchase from your local independent bookshop...
Publication date: 29 September 2022
Also by Tim Tilley:
Praise for 'Harklights':
"A charming fairytale adventure with an enduring ecological message."
Peter Bunzl, author of Cogheart
*My review copy was kindly sent to me by the publisher.
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