Arriman the Awful, Loather of Light and Wizard of the North, needs a wife. How else can he have a wizard baby to carry on the family tradition of blighting and smiting, blasting and wuthering? The problem is, wizards can only marry one kind of person--a witch. Arriman dreads the thought. "A great black crone with warts and blisters in unmentionable places from crashing about on her broom! You want me to sit opposite one of those every morning eating my cornflakes?" But a witch it must be, so Arriman holds a contest to decide which witch. The local witches are all atwitter over what spell they'll perform for the contest--all except Belladonna, who is, to her great shame, a white witch. She looks rather like the girl on the Clairol Herbal Essence bottle, with a sweet face and flowing blonde hair. "There was usually something in Belladonna's hair: A fledgling blackbird parked there by its mother while she went to hunt for worms, a baby squirrel wanting somewhere safe to eat its hazel nuts, or a butterfly who thought she was a lily or a rose."
Black spells are cast, enchantments are woven, and even Belladonna manages to do a little damage in this wonderfully clever 1979 book by Eva Ibbotson (of The Secret of Platform 13). Young readers will delight in the way Ibbotson glories in the ghoulish and the gory--and in her engaging characters who are kindly and fiendish all at once. Which Witch (finally reissued in the United States) begs to be read aloud, with before-bed-length chapters and lots of opportunities for funny voices. (Ages 9 and older) --Claire Dederer
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-9-Arriman the Awful is weary of championing blackness and trying to raise the wife-murdering ghost of Darkington Hall, Sir Simon. When the predicted new wizard does not arrive, Arriman, who is tall, dark, and handsome, with just a bit of a foolish streak, reluctantly agrees to marry to insure an heir to the throne of darkness. The witches from the coven of Todcaster are invited to a contest to win his hand by performing the blackest trick possible. These witches are a sorry lot, especially beautiful Belladonna, who is good in spite of herself. Just when the dark horse, Madame Olympia, appears to have no equal, Belladonna's black magic is improved by an orphan, Terence Mugg. The contest is a splendor of blackness and evil and is not for the fainthearted, with everything from bottomless pits and krakens to cannibalistic mice. Ibbotson describes perfectly the hierarchy of this fantasy world; every spirit, witch, and ogre is true to form. The threads of the story are woven tightly and tied up neatly at the end. Terence, of course, is the new wizard. Belladonna and Arriman can retire to a cottage where he will write a book, and Madame Olympia and Sir Simon are joined in unholy matrimony. A zestful adventure, perfect for fans of "Harry Potter" (Scholastic) and Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 (Dutton, 1998).
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Marlene Gawron, Orange County Library, Orlando, FL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.