Even a fantasy world strictly conforming to medieval Christian cosmology cannot withstand an unlikely friendship between human and witch in a picaresque middle-grade debut.
After 14 years fleeing across the Holy Roman Empire, Lizbet Lenz has learned to avoid attachments. Yet when her ne’er-do-well father finally lands in jail, she’s ready to beg help from anyone: margraves, witches, God (with whom she has regular, literal, if one-sided conversations). Only Strix, a witch girl crafted from leaves and rubbish, is willing to aid Lizbet’s desperate venture across the impassable Montagnes du Monde; unfortunately, that assistance may be turning Lizbet herself into a witch. In this wildly imaginative alternative Europe, the delicately evolving relationship between kindhearted, pious, fiercely determined, and achingly lonely Lizbet (“fair-skinned, like most northern folk”) and surly, bellicose, but resourceful Strix (“the brown of autumn leaves”) provides a sweet counterpoint to a tale otherwise teeming with selfishness, violence, and cruelty, where even heaven fails before the legions of hell. This last plotline, played at first for mordant (and potentially blasphemous) humor, subtly coalesces all the seemingly unrelated episodes until they suddenly transmogrify into a climax that’s genuinely thrilling, unexpectedly poignant, and oddly reverent. As Lizbet and Strix together realize their individual identities and agency, even greater joint adventures beckon.
Not for everyone, but readers who appreciate powerful female friendships and sui generis whimsy will cherish it. (Fantasy. 10-16)