I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch by Julie Abe. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In this second book in the Eva Evergreen series (oh, minor spoilers for the first book, I guess?), Eva is determined to prove herself as a Novice Witch, especially since Grand Master Grottel doubts her abilities. But before she can even begin, Eva’s mother is accused of a terrible crime, and Eva has to redirect her attention to proving her innocence—and maybe even saving the realm.
Eva continues to be a really endearing character. She’s so sweet and brave, and more capable and confident than before, which I loved seeing. Charlotte and Davy return too, and they’re as fun as before. I wish we could have seen more of Rin, but on the other hand, I enjoyed that characters like Conroy and Soma got more development.
The characters aside, I feel like there’s somehow less substance to this second book, even though the stakes are drastically higher. In the first book, it’s a simple story about a girl growing into her powers and learning to believe in herself when few others do. In this one, it’s much more plot-oriented, and that plot is basically about stopping a traitor from destroying the world via magic. It’s quite an intense tonal shift that I wasn’t expecting, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s certainly a gripping story, and the action scenes are vivid and magical, but it feels like a very different experience to the charm and whimsy of the first book.
Another change in this book from the first is that there’s a villain. In the first, Eva is not really up against a “bad guy” so much as she’s struggling to overcome obstacles, both internal and external. Honestly, I preferred the “antagonists” of the first book. That said, Grottel is still a decent villain with a more compelling backstory than I was expecting. He’s not the most original idea, but it works in the narrative.
In the end, Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch is good, but not great. The main characters are delightful, the setting is full of life, and the pacing is fast enough to keep you turning the pages. However, this is a darker story than the first book, and a little bit lackluster for me. It will definitely please middle school fans of fantasy, though, and I still really enjoy the interesting almost-manga inspired sort of magical realm Abe has created. She’s a solid writer, and even though I much preferred the first book, this one is still worth a read.
Overall rating: 8/10
Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch will be published on August 3rd, 2021!