Wise Child by Monica Furlong. ★★★
Wise Child is a quiet fantasy story set in medieval Scotland. A nine year old girl called Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, the isolated village witch. When Wise Child’s mother, a sorceress who uses her powers for her own gain, reappears, Wise Child will have to choose between two ways of life.
Wise Child is clearly aimed at younger readers. It tends to get shelved as YA, but I’d say MG would possibly be more accurate. It’s short, relatively simple, and has a coming of age theme. Yet, I think it can still be appreciated by older readers. Somehow it reminds me of Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan.
A lot of fantasy stories tend to be on a large scale – battles, apocalypses, struggles for the throne, and so on. Wise Child has a much smaller scale and focus. One of the repeating messages of the book is the value of everyday life. Accepting people who are different than you (say, the village witch) is also a moral at the heart of Wise Child. The messages are obvious, but they never become outright preachy.
I didn’t find the plot itself particularly compelling. The struggle Wise Child is facing with the conflict between her mother and Juniper felt like a foregone conclusion. In addition, an the climax was composed of a completely different conflict which never felt quiet satisfying.
Wise Child didn’t work for me for some reason. Perhaps that isn’t too surprising, given that I’ve compared it to the Earthsea novels I’ve read, which I also wasn’t a huge fan of. It’s not that I disliked Wise Child, it’s just that I never felt much of an emotional involvement. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, but it’s not going to be a book I go out of my way to recommend.