Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter

Virginia Boecker
For ages 13 and up
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015   ISBN: 978-0316327008

Elizabeth was just a child when her family was wiped out by a plague. Starving and alone she was found by Caleb, a boy not much older than herself, who took her under his wing. Caleb managed to get them both a job in the king’s palace and Elizabeth was content to be a maid in a place where she had food, a roof over her head, and security. Then the two orphans were given new jobs.

Like Elizabeth and Caleb’s families, the king of Anglia died of the plague. Since his son Malcom was only twelve, the boy’s uncle, Thomas Blackwell, was named the Lord Protector of the land. Before the plague caused so much chaos, magic was accepted in the country, and those who could wield it were allowed to live in peace. After the shocking loss of life, it was decided that magic would be outlawed and all magic practitioners would be punished. Since this anti-magic policy was made law, hundreds of witches and wizards have died in prison or have been burned at the stake. Thomas Blackwell uses trained witch hunters to find and arrest the lawbreakers. Two of these hunters are Caleb and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is convinced that her work is righteous and that what she is doing is good for the country. Then she is caught with some herbs on her person, herbs that witches use, and without any warning she is arrested and taken to prison. Elizabeth expects that she will be demoted, forced to become a maid once again, or a nun, but instead Blackwell tells her that she is going to burn. She is “a criminal and a heretic” and will suffer the same fate of the many witches and wizards that she captured.

The day before the burning day someone comes to see Elizabeth in her cell. She thinks he is a priest at first but then she discovers that he is a wizard, that he is the infamous Nicholas Perevil, the “most wanted wizard in Anglia.” It is said that Nicholas Perevil was the one who unleashed the plague on Anglia all those years ago. He is also the man who is leading the insurgence against the anti-magic laws, the man who is behind the Reformist movement. Elizabeth tries to fight off the man, but she is sick and in her weakened state she is no match for him.

Nicholas takes Elizabeth to a settlement that is the center of the Reformist movement. There one of Nicholas’s friends and supporters heals her of the fever that she contracted in the prison. She is treated with great kindness, but she does not trust anyone. None of the people around her know that she is a witch hunter and she plans on keeping her true identity a secret if she can. After all, they will surely kill her if they find out what she has done. Though Nicholas saved her life, and his friend John healed her, Elizabeth still thinks that the Reformists are traitors to Anglia. She thinks up plans of how she might be able to redeem herself in Blackwell’s eyes by being the one to capture Nicholas and his witch and wizard colleagues. Elizabeth is shocked when she learns that Blackwell has named her the most wanted criminal in Anglia. She will never be able to return to her old life now and the only thing she can do is to flee the country, perhaps never to come back.

As Elizabeth has no money of her own, and no useful connections either, she strikes a deal with Nicholas. He needs her to find something for him and if she succeeds he will help her get away from Blackwell and his witch hunters. It turns out that a seer has seen that Elizabeth is the only one who can find what Nicholas seeks, an object that will make it possible for him to break a curse that has been placed on him. If he does not break the curse soon he will surely die.

At first Elizabeth agrees to help Nicholas to save her own skin, but as the days go by she begins to like the people she is with, even though they are witches, wizards, pirates and other lawbreakers and magic users. She begins to feel guilty that she is responsible for the deaths of so many of their kind, and wonders what they will do to her if they find out what she really is.

As they read this extraordinary book, readers will see how Elizabeth changes as she comes to better understand the powerful forces ruling her country. Citizens are being used and abused and it is up to a few brave souls to fight against this abuse. It is never easy to admit you were wrong, and for Elizabeth, coming to the realization that she has been manipulated into doing terrible things is heartbreaking. What she does next is going to define the direction that her life takes.