I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Wild is the Witch by Rachel Griffin. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Wild is the Witch, Iris has spent the last two years hiding her identity as a witch after an incident involving her best friend forced her and her mother to move across the country. Now, they run a nature refuge, using their magic to help animals. It would be idyllic, were it not for the annoying new intern, Pike. He irritates Iris frequently, but when he makes a negative comment about witches, all her anxieties about hiding her identity come back. To work through her feelings, she constructs a curse for Pike—she doesn’t intend to use it, though, only to form it, then burn it so it cannot harm him or anyone else. But an owl at the refuge swoops in, the curse attaches to him, and he vanishes. Iris is horrified, and so she decides to journey into the woods to find him. However, her mother sends Pike along with her. Now, Iris worries that not only will she not be able to find the owl and remove the curse, but she fears that her secret will be discovered by the person she likes least.
First off, the setting of this novel is so vivid. The atmosphere of the ancient forest, full of mist and greenery, evokes a sense of wonder. Even the moments of danger, like the encounter with the bear, are full of awe and respect for nature. You really feel Iris’s love for nature in her every decision, and the way her magic interacts with nature is really compelling. It’s a cool magic system, tied to the natural order of things, and I really enjoyed seeing it in action.
I also liked Iris as a character. She definitely makes some poor choices, but you fully understand why and sympathize with her. She’s also kind and intelligent and is willing to admit when she’s wrong. Her chemistry with Pike is really good, even if the whole “enemies to lovers” concept is starting to be less appealing to me in general. Despite this, I liked seeing them forced to get to know one another in a new way and a new setting. Their changing feelings were clear and believable, and I was rooting for them before long. Pike’s a great character as well, full of depth and hidden layers. He’s charming and earnest and sweet, but also a little prickly sometimes, and it’s an excellent balance.
The scenes involving the owl were also wonderful. He had a decent personality as well, though definitely steeped in more mystery than the humans. But that seems appropriate, after all. He is an animal often associated with wisdom, and to make his motives obscured made sense to me. Also, his name is MacGuffin, and though it’s very on the nose, it’s also perfect and I love it. As for the other secondary characters, I really liked even the little that we saw of Iris’s mother and her new partner.
The themes of keeping secrets versus being honest were full of nuance and emotion, and I enjoyed watching the slow crumbling of Iris’s walls. Revealing the truth felt pretty inevitable, and the way Griffin intertwined it with the quest to find the owl was clever. And the final climactic moments, full of both action and drama, were exciting to see from both a plot and a thematic standpoint. The resolution was also well-paced and didn’t feel too sappy.
In the end, Wild is the Witch is an atmospheric tale with excellent characters, plot, and action. The settings are palpable, as are the emotions. The writing is great, and the themes are solid. I thought this was a fantastic read all around!
Wild is the Witch will be published on August 2nd, 2022!