Review: The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Title The Witch’s Boy
Author Kelly Barnhill
Genre Fantasy, Middle Grade, Witches
Format Kindle Edition
Page Length 384
Publication Date Sep 2014
Publisher Algonquin Young Readers
Read Dates May 2017
Rating 2.018965 stars – Not Recommended

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.

I wanted to like this. Like, REALLY. It has so many elements that I love in a story. It has witches, and is a fantasy coming of age story set in medieval times. Like, come on, how could I not like this! Unfortunately, this just sort of fizzled out and I felt very ‘meh’ for the last two thirds.

The Witch’s Boy had potential to be a really good fairy tale-esque story. In the beginning, twin boys, Ned and Tam, create a raft to float out to sea. The raft doesn’t hold up and Tam dies. The boys’ mother, Sister Witch, tries to save Tam by stitching his soul to Ned. The villagers, like a bunch of bastards, claim ‘the wrong boy lived’. Poor Ned. Sister Witch performs a little more healing magic on someone, which is nice, and then she has to go away and Ned and his father are attacked by bandits trying to steal the magic kept in a jar at their home and magic things happen and Ned meets up with the bandit king’s daughter and then stuff happens. This was the good bit.

The strongest trees on the mountain are the short, gnarled jacks. They let themselves bow and twist, and they live. They survive snowstorms and avalanches and wind.

Then, well… then all the work that went into setting up great plot points were just misused and things happen for no real reason. Like, the one thing I was really looking forward to happening at the end of the book, happens out of nowhere about 75% of the way through and the last 25% was soooooo boring and really just, unnecessary. There just wasn’t the payoff that I was waiting for. It really felt like the author didn’t recognise where this story needed to end. That, for the most part, is when the good guys defeat the bad guys. The good guys sort of defeat the bad guys three quarters of the way through this book.

“It’s a dangerous thing,” Sister Witch explained to him once, back when she still had hope that he might wield it when the time came. “But with tremendous power to do good. And that is our role, son. To do good. To keep it good. No matter what.”

With great power comes great responsibility, Peter Ned.

There are moments of really well written, poetic, pensive moments through the story, and I did appreciate this a lot. But I think that just annoyed me even more. The author can clearly write well and describes the environment with great prose. Unfortunately, no matter how nice and beautiful a scene is, it remains boring as hell when nothing really happens.

I’ve seen lots of high ratings and reviews from people who love this story, (it is averaging at 4.0 on GR with 2000+ ratings) so I don’t know if I just missed something, or what – but t wasn’t for me. If the book looks interesting to you enough to be considering reading it, I would say give it a go – it just wasn’t for me. But don’t let that put you off. Also – #CoverlyLove

“There is no death,” the Stone said. “There is only the next thing. A mountain gives way to a river and becomes a canyon. A tree gives way to its rot and becomes the ground. We will let go of our unnaturally elongated lives and embrace something else. We do not know what it is. But we will know it when we see it.”

Anyway, I’m off to talk to some stones. Peace and Love.

LINKSGoodreads | Amazon UK | Amazon US


  1. Yikes I had so much cover love and then I saw the melony rating and wondered what went wrong for you with the book…
    Cover love still strong but, since MG really isn’t my go to genre anyway, I can only say, sorry this didn’t work out for you. Also- what kind o bastards are the village people to claim the wrong boy lived? That is so cruel… Was the moral of the story any good at least and fitting?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was so fucking bored by the end I’m not sure if there was a moral tbh!
      I’m starting to think that MG isn’t for me either. Particularly fantasy MG. There just isn’t enough character development and plot for me. Not to worry though, no harm done – it just helps me appreciate the good stories even more! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm… yeah, your brain needs more stimulation than MG fantasy can offer you… can’t blame you there… Sometimes the simple and innocent and straight forward is nice, but other times the aul grey matter just urges for something moaaarrr!

        Liked by 1 person

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