A Pinch of Magic

A Pinch of Magic was written by Michelle Harrison and first published in 2019. It is a middle grade novel that focuses on three sisters as they try to break a deadly family curse. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Betty Widdershins is fed up of her life on the remote island of Crowstone and longs to explore the world. However, on her thirteenth birthday, she learns that this will be impossible. A terrible curse has inflicted women of the Widdershins family for generations. If she ever passes beyond the confines of Crowstone and its three sister islands – Repent, Lament and Torment – she will be driven mad by the cawing of invisible crows and perish by the next sunset.

However, along with the curse, Betty also learns of her family inheritance. Each Widdershins girl is also gifted with a magic item – a mirror that allows one to see across great distances, a set of nesting dolls that grant the power of invisibility or a travelling bag that allows the owner to teleport. With the help of her two sisters, Fliss and Charlie, and with these items in hand, Betty sets out on a mission to break the curse and earn her freedom.

Their quest first takes them to a prison on Repent, where a teenage boy claims to know the secret to breaking the curse. Colton has been imprisoned for a crime that he claims he did not commit, but will only help the sisters if they first free him. Reluctantly, the Widdershins form a plan to use their magic to get him to safety. Yet, when something goes wrong and Fliss and Charlie are kidnapped, Betty finds herself in a race against time to find them and break the curse. If she fails, she now knows that her sisters will not live to see another day…

While A Pinch of Magic did fall short of being a perfect read, it was one of those stories that just draws the reader in. The plot was a little slow to find its feet but gradually sank its hooks into me. The setting of Crowstone – a haven to the families of criminals – and its eerie sister islands was incredibly atmospheric and Harrison did a great job of capturing the mood. While the story was certainly not set in modern times, it held a bit of a timeless feel.

Crowstone was a warren of winding streets and treacherous marshes, with a history of executing those found guilty of witchcraft. Although it seems that this history has been left behind, the people are still deeply superstitious, forcing the girls to keep their magic secret. This grim setting was by far the most memorable thing about the tale, especially as some of history of the islands is revealed through a series of flashbacks.

While it did take me a while to get into the story, it soon revealed itself to have a strong mystery element which kept me enthralled. While the novel could get a little dark in places, it was always written with its target audience firmly in mind and never became overly scary. Although it had horror elements in the form of the curse, it was more a heartfelt story about sisterhood, forgiveness and wanderlust. As Betty found herself journeying from the old prison, to an island of the dead, to the dangerous marshes, she slowly learns to appreciate her sisters and realise her dreams of adventure.

However, while the story was thrilling enough to hold my interest throughout, I must admit that I was left a bit disappointed by its final act. While the true nature of the curse is very poignant, the method by which the girls remove it comes entirely out of left field and relies on the existence of a deus ex machina that I did not even realise they possessed. While I won’t spoil this for you here, I will just say that I think that more should have been done to hint that one of the three items possessed a hidden ability that would ultimately save the day. This plot point left me feeling more than a little cheated, as it ultimately meant that the girls did not actively have to do anything to break the curse.

The epilogue of the story was also just a bit too overly convenient. The use of the deus ex machina means that there is no real cost to the girls. This device should really have rocked causality, yet it ultimately only changed the one or two things necessary to ensure that each of the girls received their perfect happy ending. While this was a nice way to end the story, it was just all a bit too neat and therefore did push the boundaries of my suspension of disbelief a little too far.

Still, the strongest aspect of A Pinch of Magic was its characters. Betty, Fliss and Charlie were all incredibly strong protagonists, each bringing their unique strengths and skills to the group which ultimately allowed them to save the day. While the novel was predominantly Betty’s voyage of discovery – a quest to gain her freedom – along the way she is given ample time to appreciate everything that her family does for her and learn that there is no point in being jealous of the things that make her sisters special.

Still, while Betty got a lot of development, I would have liked to have seen more of Fliss and Charlie’s adventure. The large section of the novel which follows their kidnapping is later related back to Betty through pure exposition, but it would have been nice to experienced this first hand. It felt that Fliss, in particular, was robbed of some growth due to this, as it forced her to both sacrifice her pride in her appearance and use her feminine whiles in order to protect her sister.

Sorsha’s flashbacks are also neatly integrated into the story, slowly revealing the origins of the curse by building an engaging story about how the Widdershins family had wronged another in the past. Her tale nicely compliments Betty’s adventure, teaching her some important life lessons and granting her the opportunity to right the wrongs of her ancestors and clear the family name.

The only character that really disappointed me was Colton. Although the mission to rescue him from prison is the catalyst that causes the rest of the plot to happen, after this his importance to the story is really minimal. His brief flirting with Fliss was shoehorned in and ultimately went nowhere, and the epilogue does not even reveal if he ever found a place to belong.

Anyhow, apologies for being so vague in my comments, but I think that just about covers everything. All in all, I did really enjoy reading A Pinch of Magic. While I did have a few minor problems with the plot and supporting characters, it was a wonderfully atmospheric story about the strong bonds of sisterhood and the longing for adventure. I found that I enjoyed this one a lot more than The Other Alice and can’t wait to see what Harrison will write next.

A Pinch of Magic can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Sobeks – Part 2 | Arkham Reviews

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