"The Witch's Boy" by Kelly Barnhill. (Algonquin Young Readers/Algonquin Young Readers)

The last of the world’s magic is tricky and dangerous. It enables Sister Witch to vanquish death with a sewing needle and the Bandit King to rise to power, but it also causes their respective children — stuttering Ned and practical Aine — to suffer in ways their parents cannot see. Ned takes the painful, erratic magic into his body in an effort to safeguard it, and he immediately becomes the target of a variety of forces, including the magic, itself. The threads of this suspenseful, multi-linear narrative are as intricately stitched as Sister Witch’s handiwork, and Kelly Barnhill’s sentences are as precisely finished. With its family secrets, dark and enchanted forest and resourceful children, “The Witch’s Boy” echoes the spirit and tone of old Grimm’s fairy tales. Barnhill — whose previous books include “The Mostly True Story of Jackand “Iron-Hearted Violet — is an eloquent writer who spins beautiful lines. Just two examples: The Bandit King moves through a crowd as “easy as a slick of oil across the water,” and words rattle in Ned’s stuttering mouth “like broken teeth.” This spellbinding fantasy begs for a cozy chair, a stash of Halloween candy and several hours of uninterrupted reading time.

Mary Quattlebaum


By Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin. $16.95. Ages 9 and up