Thursday, December 13, 2012

Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Fiddle-dee-dee! A nonsense word for a fun nonsense fantasy. A name like Earwig sets the tone along with a talking cat, witch, and demons. While this book is mildly entertaining and serves a much needed niche for low level fantasy stories, it isn't particularly well-done. On the plus side, the constant tension in the plot kept me turning the pages and the Mandrake is a somewhat scary monster, but on the negative side, there are no changes within the characters and they remain distant and vaguely interesting. While I liked Earwig's gumption and positive attitude in a grim situation, she never came alive for me. I wanted to know more about the Mandrake and Custard as well. The unfinished feel to the plot, the lack of world-building, and undeveloped characters kept me from loving this book. In the end, I wanted more answers to my questions.

Earwig lives in an orphanage with her best friend, Custard. A witch and demon come disguised as ordinary people and adopt Earwig so she can help around the house. Earwig says she will come willingly if the witch will teach her magic in return for her assistance. When, the witch reneges on her promise to teach her magic Earwig is furious and gets back at the witch by learning magic on her own and turning the tables on everyone.

I liked some of the unpredictableness of the plot such as with Earwig's spell and the demon's response. More often I had questions. At first I wasn't sure if Earwig was a bossy brat who just manipulates those around her but later I find she has quite a bit of spirit and her strong personality is likable. When Earwig is left at the orphanage, it is implied that her mom is a witch but no powers are manifested in Earwig and we really don't know if Earwig is a witch because she doesn't do anything magical - she only follows a spell in a recipe-type book. The witch who has adopted Earwig, makes spells for clients but it isn't elaborated on who they are or what the spells do; we only know that the clients are called, Friends of the Earth and Mother's Union. This made me wonder exactly what type of the world the characters live in and I wanted more world-building. I'm not sure why Custard is introduced in Chapter 1 and then never makes another appearance in the novel. It seems like he should have reappeared and interacted with Earwig at another point in the plot.

Diana Wynne Jones died last March and this is the last book she wrote. It seems like an unfinished draft - particularly the puzzling epilogue that launches itself way forward in time. It felt as if the author was saying, "Okay, I don't have time to finish this so we will hash out in one paragraph everything that happened to Earwig." My guess is she wasn't able to properly edit it.  Even with flaws, it is entertaining and is going to fill a need for emerging readers who like fantasy books.

3 out of 5 Smileys
Reading Level 5.4 (too high)

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