Just look at that cover. I mean how was I suppose to resist, I did try for about a year then caved and treated myself for my birthday.
A cosy gorgeous adventure where a young witch must prove herself and solve problems with a gaming feel and Japanese infused world building this book is an absolute delight. A perfect ‘good witch’ book for the spooky season- or indeed year round for many of us.
Eva Evergreen is 12 years old, an apprentice witch and entitled to embark on her month long quest to gain Novice status and become a proper witch. All she wants to do is be magical and do her mother, a Grandmaster proud.
However, she got her magic late, it’s rather weak and it tends to get muddled, so much that Grandmaster Grottel leader of the Council wants to have her magic drained.
By quoting the rules, Eva has just one chance to become a real witch by spending a moon in a faraway town serving as their witch- simple right?
The only problem is the Mayor is angry at being ignored by the Council for so long she refuses to sign Eva off until she has made effective protections for the town of Auteri against The Culling, a devastating yearly event that has been cursing the land.
But how can just a semi magical apprentice witch do that?
The next day, I woke just before the sun peeked over the horizon and stretched my arms. magic usually tickled at my fingertips in the morning, but today I felt only the faintest of sparks
Eva Evergreen is an absolute cosy delight, and in some ways feels like the story behind a great game like Knights + Bikes by Gabrielle Kent. Story writing in gaming is rather underappreciated by the wider community but for many it is the story arc & characterisation that pulls players in to care about a character’s progress.
A big trend in gaming right now is ‘cosy games’, those that give you a warm safe feeling and aren’t high-octane adrenaline-perilous and Eva Evergreen is a perfect match for cosy gamers who love (or indeed readers who would love) games like Animal Crossing or are waiting for games like The Little Witch in The Woods to come out.
Eva Evergreen has this gorgeous cosy feel as we meander through this moon in Auteri with her. She has tasks to complete, and she starts off badly but soon improves her skills and makes friends. But it doesn’t feel clunky, programmed or artificial, we just drift along with Eva and watch her approach each task and struggle through, we discover more about the town and it’s inhabitants in this gorgeous world and it just sweeps you away like a warm hug.
The familiar, citrusy scent of home floated up as Ember snuffled at the package, and my heart clenched. I missed Mother and Father terribly
I compare it to gaming because that’s the feel I get when I play this type of game, as you can guess I’m a sucker for a good story, but it also reminds me of the kind of children’s books that were around when I was young that are less in fashion now especially in middle grade fantasy.
Stories where ‘nothing’ yet ‘everything’ happened, there’s no quest or bad guy to uncover or the world will end but something fundamentally changes or grows within both the main character and the reader. And as in the grand tradition of children’s stories there is great inclusion of yummy food as a bringer of comfort, nostalgia and joy.
This is reflected in tales where you can see an inspiration from such as early Studio Ghibli My Neighbour Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, the latter of which is clearly a Heavy influence. now, this isn’t ‘strictly’ true here as yes there is an overarching peril and a quest to Eva’s visit, but the overall feel of this book is there is this glorious soaking up of time and experience just ‘being’, just pootling along trying things and failing and trying something different. Like the last summer before high school when everything will change.
And it’s glorious and wonderfully different for it.
Best of luck to you Apprentice Evergreen. I hope to call you Novice Evergreen when we meet next.Elite Norya Dowel to Eva as she begins her quest.
There is a rich canon of witchy literature that Eva Evergreen draws from but I wanted to touch on two in particular.
The classic Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono is a huge inspiration from the shy young witch’s quest on her own struggling to prove her magic and worth in a strange town, though luckily for Eva she only has to do it for a moon not a year!!
Even if it isn’t directly inspired by James Nicol’s Apprentice Witch series which also draws from the Kiki story it shares a lot of similarities about the child of a greatly important witch (in Nicol’s case grandchild) being quietly apprenticed by a single witch leading to their craft rejected by the official council and being sent to a strange town far far away as a last chance to prove yourself. But is fresh and different enough to stand alone and warrant hearty recommendation as if you loved Nicol’s work you will love Abe’s and vice versa.
What makes Eva Evergreen particularly shine is Julie’s enthusiastic setting in a Japanese saturated fantasy world that sits comfortably within the Western frame of reference too.
We see Julie’s roots with many Japanese names, flavours and foods, etiquette such as bowing, culture with the Pokémon inspired flamefox and her American wings too with a smattering of western names, crystal towers and a coastal town inspired by those that pepper the cliffs of Mediterranean islands. It feels like you’ve fallen through the pages into a Studio Ghibli movie, more Kiki and Totoro than Fireflies mind.
I read this over bedtimes with Tinyfae who like with Keeper of Secrets also woke in the night to demand more. She swooned with delight at the descriptions of yuzu flavoured croissants, squealed with delight at Ember, Eva’s flamefox (her Vulpix as my Pokémon mad daughter insisted) cried with fear at the most perilous section, empathised when Eva failed and and shone with delight whenever Eva triumphed.
We immediately ordered book two and now my 8 year old is nose deep in the first book- she thinks Davy is funny!!
Overall if you loved The Apprentice Witch series or Kiki’s Delivery Service, or if you want a cosy magical adventure then this is the perfect book.
Eva Evergreen: Semi Magical Witch by Julie Abe is published by Little Brown