Children · Kelly Barnhill · Stand Alone

The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill


When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it’s Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over? (


witch's boyPlot

At first I wasn’t enjoying this novel at all. It was very strange and dark to begin with, but once I spent a little time with it I found that I thoroughly enjoyed it. For an older children’s novel I thought the book was very deep and complex with so many things going on at once, which I thought was incredible. There is the problem with the Bandit wanting Ned’s mother’s magic, which he tries to protect; the stones in the forest wanting to be free, the Queen of Ned’s country having treason in her court, and King Ott wanting control over the magic that Ned now has. Definitely a lot going on and I love how it all ties together at the end of the book. It also isn’t complicated to follow, but keeps the story very entertaining and moving at a reasonable pace. It started a little slow because I thought it was pretty strange there for awhile, but it picks up quickly.

The novel is rather dark focusing a lot on death/dying and spirits, but there are also themes of love, grief, forgiveness, family, and friendship explored throughout. It is a fairy-tale like story about all the aforementioned elements but also coming of age, as well as the battle between good and evil and is so well done that it was incredibly interesting and fascinating.

I really enjoyed the element of magic in this story because it was so different and refreshing. There are 3 different strands of magic I guess you could say. I was completely destroyed (released), one was almost entirely destroyed but a bit of it remains with one of the characters in the story, and the final strand remains pretty strong and in care of Sister Witch (Ned’s mother). What I really liked about was the magic being personified. It could talk within the wielder’s mind and had feelings. It was also very tricky, powerful, manipulative, untrustworthy, talkative, and always wanted to be used despite the consequences. This is a great element to the story that I really enjoyed!


I believe I enjoyed the story much more than I did the characters, but the characters were still very well developed and easily distinguishable (expect for the stones).

Ned’s character was pretty amazing and he is so relatable. He isn’t perfect a perfect character and that is why I like him so much. Throughout the story you see him trying to deal with his problem of not communicating with others, then with his stuttering problem and not being able to read anymore, as well as his grief for his beloved twin brother. He is such a sweet kid and you get to see him grow into an amazingly courageous and story young man.

I liked Aine, but not as much as Ned because she wasn’t as interesting to me. She is very straightforward, she never gives up, and is rather resourceful because she pretty much has to take care of her self. She can also be very cold and she has a hard time trusting others especially if they contradict what her father has taught her.  I love the relationship she has with her father, but what was even more interesting was to watch her relationship develop with Ned. She is completely untrusting of him at first, especially because he befriends a wolf. As they spend a lot of time together they save each other’s lives and end up being very good friends.

The stones were the characters I had a hard time with. It was very difficult to tell who was who and remember who said what because there were so many of them, 8 or 9 I think. I also could never tell, until the very end, whether or not the were good or evil or maybe a bit of both. It was a big mystery.

There are several other characters such as Sister Witch, the Queen, King Ott, and the Bandit (Aine’s father), as well as the wolf. They are all great characters and each have their own personalities. It would take to much time to discuss them individually, but they are all great characters and I thought they were easily distinguishable.


The novel was incredibly well written and easy to follow. I also liked that is was written for older children and had some very difficult vocabulary words that children probably won’t know.

Overall Thoughts

This was such a great book and I will have to look into others written by this author. It is very dark because it focuses a lot on death and people dying, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is something that older children need to learn about. If not comfortable letting your child read this, it may be a good one to read together and discuss. I think this book is most appropriate for children who are probably 10 and older. It is a terrific story that I wouldn’t mind reading again!

My rating:

4.5/5 stars!

View this book on Amazon and Goodreads!



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