This extraordinary book captivates from the get-go with a strange, heart-stopping opening chapter involving a car ride in torrential rain and a quad bike hunt for hares. One of these hares appears to speak, while another has only one eye, in which can be glimpsed ‘worlds upon worlds within worlds’. These eerie happenings presage Bea our 13-year-old protagonist’s awakening as a rare summoning witch in a world that seems hell-bent on the destruction and/or exploitation of her kind.
Like all the best fantasy writers, Burgess anchors his supernatural storyline in real and often painful psychology, in this case Bea’s desire to be reunited with her family, and the unspeakable shame that eventually overcomes her. There are nods to J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman, and a smattering of shamanism in the uneasy middle section
dominated by the duplicitous Lars, but this book is ultimately its own dark beast. The phantasmagoria of impressions coming from ‘the second world’ (which only witches can see) propulsively drive the plot at key moments. With this extravagant visual dimension you could imagine the novel as the next CGI-laden multiplex blockbuster, but don’t let that put you off.
Bea forms a strong bond with fellow witches such as Odi and Silvis, and the reader connects memorably with these characters too. The end, when it comes, is shocking – a detonating grenade – but also miraculous.
All in all, The Lost Witch is an ambitious, inspired tale that, despite its relatively short length (given the sort of fare we’re dealing with), contains multitudes. Highly recommended.