Ratchet the Reluctant Witch


Ratchet the Reluctant Witch was written by Sara Pascoe and first published in 2015. It tells the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who is forced to find a way home when her magical powers shunt her back in time. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Rachel “Ratchet” Hollinsworth has been living in foster care ever since her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and she hates every minute of it. To make matters worse, she’s worried that she’s also developing a mental disorder. Lately, she’s been seeing things that aren’t there and hearing cats talk. If anyone finds out, she knows she’ll be locked away like her mother.

Desperate for independence, Ratchet runs away to London and her life soon starts to look up. She finds herself a job in a nice café and a homeless psychic named Pavel reveals to her that she is actually an Integrator (witch). He even starts to teach her how to control her powers. Her situation still isn’t perfect but Ratchet is content. That is, until her social worker tracks her down.

It turns out that the social worker – Bryony – is an Integrator too and had been keeping an eye on Ratchet. When one of Ratchet’s friends is injured, the grief triggers her powers and sends her hurtling back in time to the Essex Witch trials. Bryony and her wisecracking familiar, Oscar the Cat, hurry to bring her back before the Witchfinder General can catch her. Yet things go from bad to worse when Ratchet jumps to 17th Century Istanbul and finds herself as a fortune teller to the murderous Sultana. Will she live long enough to get back to her own time?

To start with, let me just warn you that Ratchet the Reluctant Witch may not be the novel you were expecting based on its Goodreads blurb. Although it’s not a very difficult read and even the title makes it sound like a middle grade novel, it’s most definitely intended for a young adult audience. It contains some threat of violence, racist language and sexual references. If you’re planning on giving this to a younger reader, you might want to flip through it yourself first.

I was attracted to this novel purely by its premise, as a story about a trainee witch bouncing around history sounded like a lot of fun. While the story was more serious than I was expecting, it did have its share of entertaining moments. The humour didn’t personally work for me, as I didn’t find Ratchet quite as witty as she evidently thought that she was, but some of her early attempts at fortune telling are quite entertaining.

The story is set in a world where people with special powers are widely accepted. These people are the sort of folks that would have once been known as witches – mind readers, fortune tellers and empaths – though are now known by the more politically correct term “Integrators”. Integrators do seem to have some sort of structure and hierarchy. They form a part of Metropolitan Police Force, have their own academies and even have programmes that train animals how to be familiars. Yet the concept didn’t seem to have a lot of weight to it. Integrators are never fully explained. While some people seem to know all about them, others (including Ratchet herself) don’t believe they exist. Their powers don’t seem to have any limits either as even an untrained Integrator can change history with no repercussions. Pascoe’s novel put some nice foundations in place but it was a shame that she didn’t really build upon them.

Although the world building was a little flimsy, the book’s basic plot was actually a fairly interesting idea. Ratchet does not start the story in a good place. She feels unloved and unwanted, having lost her family to old age and mental illness. Added to this is the terror that she too is losing her mind and the realisation that her boyfriend isn’t the nice guy that she thought he was, so it’s totally understandable why her outlook was so negative. I enjoyed these early chapters the most as Ratchet ran away, had some terrible experiences and finally started to put her life back together. Unfortunately, the story went downhill for me from the moment she went back in time.

The novel just wasn’t focused at all. I think the biggest issue with Ratchet the Reluctant Witch was that it felt like a rough draft. More than anything, it was in need of a good edit. The pacing ranged from break-neck to painfully slow. Take for example the story arc set in Istanbul (which should have at that time been called Constantinople, but I’m going to let that one slide). On arrival in Istanbul, Ratchet is treated to a wealth of foreign sights and learns a lot about local culture and what it means to be a good Muslim. However, the time spent chatting and attending parties lasts for 120 pages. This section culminates as she is captured by the Sultana in an abrupt climax which only takes up around 30 pages. This is just far too much talk for very little payoff.

The dialogue also felt unpolished. I have already mentioned the humour fell a little flat for me (though I appreciate that this is personal) but the issues went beyond this. To use the Istanbul portion as an example once again, the people that Ratchet meet all speak like modern teenagers despite belonging to an entire different culture and time period. A jinni tells her to “do the hokey-cokey and turn yourself around” and teenagers use modern day slang. All of this felt wrong and made the past-set portions feel really anachronistic.

I also feel that I should talk about the lack of characterisation. Other than Ratchet, none of the huge cast got a lot of time to shine. Many problems were solved by just shifting time periods (the Witchfinder General is rumoured to be an evil witch yet we never see any evidence of this and Ratchet never faces off against him) and those that weren’t were largely wrapped up in the final chapter. Take Pavel for an example. An early chapter references that he had never been the same since his accident, yet the final chapter rather artlessly states why this is and how he came to terms with it.

The only character who really did get any development was Ratchet. To be fair, this actually was finally meaningful. Ratchet began the story as a withdrawn and stubborn teen and gradually learned to appreciate her life in 21st Century London. However, the problem was that I couldn’t stand her. While I appreciate why Ratchet was so messed up, she just came across as being too openly antagonistic towards Bryony (who never did anything but try to help her). Until the final few chapters, Ratchet never thought of anyone but herself and this made it incredibly hard to root for her.

All in all, this just wasn’t the story for me. I can see by the reviews on Goodreads that I’m in the minority so if any of this sounds interesting to you, feel free to check it out and let me know what you think. Personally, I felt that it had some nice ideas but really could have done with some tighter editing on the whole.

Ratchet the Reluctant Witch can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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