The Witchling’s Girl is the story of Haley, a young girl who discovers that she possesses a strange magic when she accidentally brings her dead cat back to life. Unfortunately for her, this is death magic, and means that her life is about to change forever. Given away by her family, she’s made to go live with the Witchling, the town’s healer, midwife, and undertaker. Now Haley must learn the ways of the Witchling, learn how to heal the sick, raise the dead, and deliver corpses to the underworld in service to the people who now fear her powers.
I was instantly hooked by The Witchling’s Girl. There was something about this strange new world that fascinated me, and the fact that Helena Coggan chose to write the book from Haley’s point of view is a large part of this. Much like Haley we start the experience not knowing much, and discover things through her perspective.
At first Marian, the town Witchling, is a frightening figure, one who is keeping Haley from her family, forcing her into a life that she does not want. But over the course of the book our perception of things changes alongside Haley’s, we discover just what the Witchlings are, and why they’re important, and just like Haley, we come to see it as a vital and noble calling, one that isn’t to be feared.
The subtle shifts that Coggan allows to play out in the story are fantastic, and the Haley we follow at the start of the book is so different from who she is midway through, and who she then goes on to be at the end of the book that you don’t even realise how radical a journey and changes she’s been through until you look back once you’ve reached the end. We have a protagonist who is a terrified child, a dutiful student, a loving friend, a lawbreaker, and a determined protector. Haley goes through such an amazing journey in this book that she’s a more well rounded and multifaceted a character than some I’ve seen in series that span several novels. And despite her magical abilities, and her different world, she’s so human and so relatable that you’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love with her.
The novel is set in some unnamed fantasy world, a place where the worlds of the afterlife, and the rules around death, are very different. We get hints of this throughout the book, of nations at war with each other, beings who have descended from heaven to walk amongst humans, but all of this is background, barely brushing up against the heart of the story, which is the life of this one woman. At first I found myself wanting to learn more about this world, but then I realised it didn’t really matter. We get given the information that we need, that’s important to Haley’s story, and that’s it.
In a story about a woman who can’t leave her hometown, who has to be easy to find and accessible so that she can help the people around her the things that don’t directly affect her aren’t important. Do I really need to know about this land far away that an army is planning to invade? No, not really, and I was really okay with that. It felt like a bigger, more realised world because Coggan didn’t feel the need to try and show this stuff off, and simply allowed readers to experience this small corner of it.
With so many fantasy stories wanting to show off the worlds they inhabit, to tell grand, sweeping epics with the fate of the world on the line it felt like a breath of fresh air to have a book that slowed things down a little, and allowed its characters to be the important part. This is a book about people more than anything else, about a young woman forced into a life she never asked for, who’s trying to do the best she can for people, and who ultimately wants to do the right thing, even if that’s not the easiest thing. The Witchling’s Girl is a one of the first books for 2021 I’ve read, but it’s one that I know I’m still going to look fondly on come the end of the year; an absolutely amazing read.
The Witchling’s Girl is out now in Hardback and on Kindle from Hodder & Stoughton.