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Half-Witch

Kind-hearted Lizbet and witch girl Strix embark upon a perilous quest where even the fate of Heaven is at stake.

In the world in which Lizbet Lenz lives, the sun still goes around the earth, God speaks directly to his worshippers, goblins haunt every cellar and witches lurk in the forests. Disaster strikes when Lizbet’s father Gerhard, a charming scoundrel, is thrown into a dungeon by the tyrant Hengest Wolftrow. To free him, Lizbet must cross the Montagnes du Monde, globe-girdling mountains that reach to the sky, a journey no one has ever survived, and retrieve a mysterious book.

Lizbet is desperate, and the only one who can help her is the unpleasant and sarcastic witch girl Strix. As the two girls journey through the mountains and into the lands of wonder beyond, on the run from goblins, powerful witches, and human criminals, Lizbet discovers, to her horror, that Strix’s magic is turning Lizbet into a witch, too. Meanwhile, a revolution in Heaven is brewing.

Reviews

“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.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In a Europe where goblins coexist with the literal (but unhelpful) Holy Trinity, Lizbet is sucked into a magical quest with only the surly witch-girl Strix as a companion. Like all great children’s books, Half-Witch is not afraid to put the big stuff on the page: they match wits with the Pope of Storms and corpse-eating earth-witches, and also with human violence and cruelty. An edge-of-your-seat adventure about friendship, trust, and what it means to be changed by someone, Half-Witch is like The Golden Compass as written by Roald Dahl.”
— Lauren Banka, Elliott Bay Book Company

Half-Witch gave me the same atmospheric shivers that The Bear and the Nightingale gave me; it’s got that same fairy-tale quality that makes every word seem a little bit like it’s shrouded in fog, like you are discovering the book as you are reading it. And it has that same weird blend of folk-lore and Christianity that makes for a wild and excellent contrast of ideas and themes and makes me want to just dig in and discuss this book. It’s a slightly creepy, unsettling, atmospheric, beautiful story about friendship and love and the journey it takes to get to those emotions, the trials humans face and the ways they change when faced with growing up and losing their ways. It’s about Loss. It’s about Finding. It’s about Being Made New. And while I don’t know if I really liked this book, I absolutely enjoyed it. (Also the cover is gorgeous. That’s important to note.)”
— Megan Szmyd, Book Shop of Fort Collins

“A picaresque fantasy debut in the mode of L. Frank Baum, in which witches and magic and God and goblins populate a world that is possibly just next door to our own. Lizbet and the witch girl Strix are delightful company in which to set out on the road.”
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

John Schoffstall has published short fiction in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and other venues, and was a Grand Prize winner of the Writers of the Future award. He is a physician, and once practiced Emergency Medicine. Now he follows Candide’s advice and tends his own garden. He lives in the Philadelphia area.

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