In Review: The Hidden Witch

Ostertag continues to create magic with her storytelling and visuals.

The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag

Published by Graphix on October 30, 2018. Simultaneously published in hardcover of 203 pages at $24.99, paperback at $12.99, and E-Book at $7.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: Aster has created a magic symbol of protection to shield his friend Charlie from the Fetch that is swirling about the pair, looking to do harm to the athlete. Great tease of what’s to be found within from writer/artist Molly Knox Ostertag. The characters are clearly shown, as is the threat, and the bright oranges and reds for the background make this an eye catching cover. Overall grade: A+

The premise: From the back cover, “Aster’s family has finally agreed that he can learn witchery with the girls, but he has a lot of catching up to do. So when Grandmother offers her tutoring in exchange for a favor, Aster jumps at the chance — until she asks him to help his great-uncle, Mikasi. Family or no, Aster isn’t ready to face the beast who nearly destroyed him and his cousins. Across town, dark magic has attached itself to Aster’s friend Charlie. Witches are taught to never create a “Fetch,” a cruel shadow form that does only harm. But the thing following Charlie is a clear sign that someone is breaking the rules. With the help of his family, Aster does everything he can to protect Charlie. But to discover who’s making the Fetch and put a stop to it, he’ll need darker, more powerful magic — from the most dangerous person he knows…” I loved everything in the first book and this summary reminds me of what’s gone before and what the stakes are in this book. I’m raring to read this. Overall grade: A+

The characters: Aster Vanissen has grown since the last book in that he no longer has to hide his desire to learn witchcraft with the girls of his family. He’s naturally impatient to play catch up and those teaching him are still a titch uncomfortable teaching him. He still is devoted to his friend Charlie and will do anything to help her. I like that Aster is uncomfortable in helping Mikasi, with Ostertag showing some solid parallelism between her protagonist’s situation in the classroom and assisting his great-uncle. Charlie Martin-West is a terrific best friend for Aster, keeping his magical abilities secret and being that ear to listen to what he can’t tell others. This book has her providing that ear to a new character that is the crux of the book’s conflict. Ariel Torres is new to school and is befriended by Charlie. Their relationship is as strong and true as the one between Aster and Charlie. Ariel’s home life and past is very different from the other two and the reason behind her actions are believable. Sedge Vanissen gets some strong growth this issue as someone who wants a change like Aster got. He is a necessary character for the book’s climax and I was glad to see he’s not the only Vanissen child who wants a different life. Grandmother also gets some big development with her request of Aster being heartfelt. Her initial anger at his refusal to help made her incredibly real. She was a heart breaker throughout the book for her devotion to Mikasi. The big bad of the previous book, Mikasi is still held prisoner, but Grandmother thinks he can be saved. How so is incredibly interesting and his interactions with Aster are fantastic. Overall grade: A+

The settings: Vanissen House is a warm, wooded locale that would make anyone feel welcome. Contrasting it is town where Charlie lives and Sterling Junior High is located. It’s a slice of America that seems as though it’s a part of every reader’s neighborhood. Ariel’s hideout is a place that every teen would want, but what occurs there is not good. All of these settings are necessary for the tale and look great. Overall grade: A+

The action: The Fetch is a great antagonist because it just won’t stop once it’s been summoned to cause trouble for Charlie. Adding to the tension is Aster’s quest to learn who summoned it. And more tension comes from his visits to Mikasi, who at times seem as though he could thrash the witch boy. Every page had tension that kept me turning pages. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: The solution for the Fetch is outstanding as it also deals with one person’s desire for forgiveness. This is a great pulling together of the book’s problems as well as ending those begun in the original book. Overall grade: A+

The art: I love Ostertag’s visuals. The characters look terrific. Each has their own trait that made me smile, from Aster’s bare feet to Ariel’s eyeshadow. The Fetch is much more than a shadow running amok and its every appearance will put the reader on edge. Mikasi’s nasty alter ego continues to thrill and frighten when it appears. Sedge broke my heart when he shape changed and then whined on Page 152. I also like that he retains his Anisocoriatic colors. The settings are also wonderful looking. There are many scenes set at the junior high and Ostertag peoples this location with a variety of students and includes all the accouterments one would see in each room, such as in the science room. Vanissen Home looks like the Waltons’ home and it’s great. The final page is a tear inducing callback to Page 189. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Ostertag continues to create magic with her storytelling and visuals. This book expertly addresses friendship, bullying, and the power of being different. A terrific read for all ages and all genders. One can only hope that Ostertag has more adventures for Aster and his friends. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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