Witch’s Boy
Alex Beecroft
Website: http://www.alexbeecroft.com/

Since reviewers are not supposed to gush and are supposed to find something to criticize, I’ll do that and get it out of the way before I get to the Good Stuff. There is an occasional wrong word and once in a long while there is a misspelled word. The layout is much like that for an ebook, with a space between every paragraph, which is a little off-putting. And … well, there’s no ‘and’. Honestly, those are all the negatives I have to offer. So if anyone sees this as a “gushing” review, then so be it.

Witch’s Boy is the first book I’ve read in eons that almost left me speechless.

It is self-published through Lulu—and, incidentally, has a beautiful cover, something all too often missing in self-published and small-press books. I don’t know if the author submitted it to mainstream publisher, but she should have. It’s a dark masterpiece of raw emotion, vivid color, violence in thought and deed, convoluted plotting, unforgettable characters and descriptions. Maybe Tolkienistas will consider this to be sacrilege, but Witch’s Boy is a modern Lord of the Rings in one volume.

Although thirty years ago I read The Hobbit, and Lord of the Rings, I’ve never been much of a fantasy reader so I can’t really compare it to others of the genre,. More recently I have read two others which I enjoyed and have reviewed on this site (Orphan’s Quest and Immortal Journey.) One thing I especially liked about Witch’s Boy was that, although it’s a fantasy, the setting felt very medieval European or perhaps Russian, with people and place names that felt familiar enough they didn’t bring me up short. There were serfs, castles, familiar plants, mountains and trees, ravens and fish, white wolves and horses. In short, the setting made it all very believable and familiar, and to someone who likes realistic books that’s a definite plus.

It is as full of Good vs. Evil as is the Bible. Witches (who are not at ALL of the stereotypical “boil-boil-toil-and-trouble” or “Bewitched” variety!) are primary. The first witch we meet is a peasant child, Oswy, who has been sold into slavery, or so he believes, and who is unaware he was born with the powers of witchcraft. The second one we meet is Tancred, the embodiment of evil, a creature who is guilty of every vile act in the book, though we first meet him in another guise—a man of just ordinary evil rather than metaphysical evil. The third is Sulien FitzGuimar who, at first, also seems evil. When we come to know him we realize that he is a tragic and noble figure, and every moment of his life is a struggle not to become like his mentor, Tancred.

There is a subplot which, at times, seems puzzlingly disconnected from the main story, but such is Beecroft’s gifted plotting that it all comes together and we realize that Adela’s story is spectacularly crucial. When we meet Adela she is a young Lady set to become a nun, whose all-concealing black garment, a grima, hides not only her face and form but a rebellious heart. She literally escapes from a forced marriage with an unscrupulous and wicked man and puts her life in peril by doing so. Along the way to her sanctuary she meets both magical creatures in the form of elfish shape shifters, and beyond-horrible demons and a beyond-exquisite angel. I love it that Adela’s reaction to the beauty and mystery of elves and angels is just as confused and frightened and yet intrigued as any of us would be.

One of the best supporting characters is Leofwine, the kind of man Knights of legend were meant to be – brave to a fault, kind, generous, and loyal unto death.

Violence, horror, and the insatiable thirst for revenge permeate the book. Some acts carried out by Tancred, demons, and other forces of sickly evil are often breathtakingly cruel; one is perpetrated by the child-witch, Oswy, while he is possessed by Tancred.

Beecroft’s descriptions are music in print. If you’ve ever listened to “Night on Bald Mountain” by Rimsky-Korsakov, based on themes by Mussorgsky, then you have an auditory idea of the descriptions in this book. I’m not a very visual writer, myself, and am tremendously impressed with those who are—and I am in awe of the visuals in this book. I’m going to pick a handful of very brief ones at random.

“…the squabbling of rooks and crows as they fought over a dead hare, its soil-brown fur appearing and disappearing among the clot of black.” (page 147)

“…moorland swept up in billowing rises to a higher hill, and then to a sharp peak crowned with a tumble of gray boulders and another thicket of thorn. … The bare hills shone like a child’s face scrubbed for a festival.” (page 205)

“A wind sprang up—silver edged, glittering—and streamed around her. Her hair unraveling from its braids, lifted and floated behind her—showering crystal bells onto the earth. … and behind her, green as every kind of leaf, each feather edged with sunshine, her great wings unfurled in a fan of spendor.” (page 232)

“Like writhing black slime they came creeping out of the arrowslits, oozing head-downward over the walls. …The presences which lurk unseen in nightmares were made visible, the beings who haunt night’s shadows were coming down over the battlements with heavy reptilian purpose.” (282)

Dang! That’s addictive. If I don’t stop now I’ll wind up typing the entire book!

OK, here’s the short review: if you like dense, dark, intelligent, action-packed, beautifully written books Buy It! Urge your local library to buy it also.

The Witch’s Boy
By Alex Beecroft
Paperback: 316 pages
Publisher: Lulu.com (May 7, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1847537294
ISBN-13: 978-1847537294
Available on Amazon.com