Book: Son of a Witch

Son of a Witch
Gregory Maguire
Illustrator: Douglas Smith
2005

Son of a Witch is the sequel to Maguire’s wonderful book Wicked. It is the story of what happened to Liir, the son (probably) of Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West). While Wicked had a very broad scope where you were always aware of the world around Elphaba full of political, social and religious depth, Son of a Witch generally has a much narrower view, largely focussing just on Liir and the people around him with little concern for the broader picture. The result of that shift is that readers have much less of a grasp of what is going on in Oz and why certain things might be happening. The political situation is extremely fuzzy and unclear and the religious issues are much harder to understand. This kind of hurts what could have been a very interesting book.

Maguire’s writing is excellent in every book of his that I have read (four in total now), and it remains strong in this book. He is very good at making words sound good together. That skill is impressive and lots of fun to read, but it can’t save a flimsy story. The plot in this book is very hard to follow. The beginning of the book, before we go back into Liir’s memory and find out what has been happening to him since the Witch’s death, seems rather irrelevant by the time you get past it. Nothing is revealed and little of flavour or depth is gained because it focuses entirely on the petty squabbles of the maunts (nuns) in a rather secluded place. Many of the characters are very well written, often with delightfully distinctive voices, but there are also an awful lot of very one-dimensional characters.

The plot is complicated and often changes focus completely. Many plot threads are all but dropped completely and forgotten, while others persist even beyond when it feels like they should. There was a certain amount of frustration in Wicked when information about certain things never appeared, but there always seemed to be a point or statement made by that very lack of knowledge. Son of a Witch does not always have that point or statement for missing information, and so it just feels absent and is, consequently, rather frustrating and irritating. I really missed the deep philosophical ideas about society and human nature that are present in many of Maguire’s other books. The other strange detraction from focus was little references and bits of information that have nothing to do with the plot, but persist in being talked about. The most glaring of this was the strange inclusion of Tip, the protagonist from L. Frank Baum’s second Oz book, who appears for apparently no reason and does nothing of interest. Tip is included momentarily and then referred to often throughout the rest of the book, but it is never explained who he is or why he is important and the changes he made in Oz in the classic books never happen in this one – Ozma never returns. In fact, she is barely mentioned. It was very strange and distracting (and I assume confusing for someone who doesn’t already know who Tip is).

The wonderful woodcut illustrations at the beginning of each section of the book are excellent, as they are in Maguire’s other books as well. The fantastic dragon at the beginning of the third section is particularly impressive. I love the dust jacket cover illustration of the Witch looking out her tower window next to her gazing ball with the image of Liir in it. The illustration under that, however, (on the book under the jacket) is strange and I’m not sure that I like it. It doesn’t feel like the book or the character to me. I love the style, though, and am impressed with the skill required to create those images.

In general, I wasn’t terribly happy with this book. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it either. Maguire’s other books are far superior and I would recommend them in an instant, but this one I could have lived without reading.

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