Happy Halloween! In the last few decades we’ve seen traditional tales turned on their head. Witches, wizards, warlocks and all manner of creatures have climbed out of the darkness to become heroes in their own adventures.
This Halloween I’ve listed five of my favourite books featuring protagonists who have (or are claimed to have) supernatural powers. These are people you shouldn’t be afraid to bump into on a dark and stormy night.
1. The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker
This beautiful, magical story describes love and friendship in late nineteenth century New York. Chava, a recent immigrant to the United States, is alone is a country where she knows no one. Kind strangers – particularly Rabbi Avram Meyer – offer her the help she needs to build a new life and a community.
This isn’t an ordinary immigration story. Chava looks like an adult but she’s only a few days old. Made of clay, she’s a golem who has been set adrift after the death of the ‘master’ she had been created to serve. Chava tries to learn about the world, but her attempts are complicated by her ability to sense humans’ fears and desires. Eventually she develops a friendship with Ahmad. He is a djinni who escaped the lamp that imprisoned him for centuries after it was opened by Arbeely, a local tinsmith.
This story is a wonderful mix of fantasy, mythology and history. The author uses the golem and the djinni to build a beautiful picture of cultures meeting and mixing in turn-of-the-century New York. There are many intriguing characters and suitably a dastardly villain. Both Chava and Ahmad are realistically flawed but they’re shown to be no worse than the humans surrounding them. This book can be very slow paced but stick with it, I promise it’s rewarding!
2. The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
This chilling story is based on real events. Matthew Hopkins, England’s self-proclaimed ‘Witchfinder General’ was behind around three hundred hangings in the seventeenth century. He and his murderous friends accused huge numbers of people (mostly unprotected women) of associating with the devil.
Beth Underdown’s story is narrated by Alice, Matthew Hopkin’s fictional sister. Recently widowed, Alice returns to her brother’s home to find that the town is gripped by fear.
Alice learns that the ‘investigations’ carried out by Matthew and his supporters involve torture to force confessions. She doesn’t share her brother’s belief in these women’s guilt, but with so many powerful men supporting him there’s little she can do. Alice tries to mitigate his behaviour while uncovering the family secret that’s the route of his obsession.
I found it easy to be sympathetic to Alice as she wavers between running from her brother and staying to assist his victims. The author has used her likeable character to fill the gaps in Hopkins’ story and created a tale that shows the villains weren’t the so-called witches but their abusers. If I have a criticism, it’s that Alice’s attitude sometimes seemed anachronistically modern. If you’re a historian, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!
3. Among Others by Jo Walton
Jo Walton scooped up the Hugo Award AND the Nebula Award for this fantastical coming of age story. It follows Mori, a teenage girl and science fiction fan stuck at a distinctly unmagical English boarding school. She’s struggling to cope with the death of her twin sister, who was killed in the same car crash that left Mori with a permanent leg injury. If you’re wondering when I’ll mention witches, don’t worry they’re right here – Mori reveals the accident was caused by a magical conflict, where she and her sister battled their dangerous mother.
Among Others is a novel about boys, boarding schools, grief and the search for identity. Mori’s mother takes the role of the villain and I’d have loved to learn more about her motivations; is she malicious, ill or confused? Sadly, she’s rarely appears in person so it’s impossible to be sure. The magic throughout this story is subtle and Mori isn’t sure how far it extends. Those who use it can be good or evil and the fairies Mori meets have their own confusing agenda.
The part of this novel that really stood out for me was the love of SciFi that shines though on every page. As Mori grapples with speaking to fairies and the loss of her twin, I felt her love of reading was as important to her personality as her use of magic.
Want to read my full review? Click here!
4. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
The much-missed Terry Pratchett was a comedy genius. His Discworld series is packed with laugh out loud moments. I Shall Wear Midnight is an easy read that deals with serious issues.
Main character, Tiffany Aching is a teenager, farmer’s daughter and witch. Her job is ten percent magic and ninety percent social work. She does whatever needs to be done, whether that’s cutting old ladies’ toenails, tending to minor injuries or protecting a girl from her violent father.
Tiffany has noticed rising hatred against witches, who some people claim are evil monsters. She learns that the Cunning Man, a supernatural being, is behind this growing bigotry. Tiffany must use her magic and her common sense to stop his plans and change public opinion.
In this novel, young, practical Tiffany is the anthesis to every story about the cackling, evil, gingerbread-cottage-owning witch. The plot is entertaining but it’s the strong personalities and the one liners that pull the book together.
5. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Now the big question. How have I got so far down this list without mentioning the wonderful J.K. Rowling? The most influential fantasy author of all time (fans of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, feel free to shout at me in the comments), she’s made people around the world long for a Hogwarts letter.
Like a big chunk of the planet, I love the Harry Potter series. I’m part of the generation that began reading it in childhood then finished book seven as a young adult. In The Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling gets back to the exciting world of Hogwarts School, but places the original characters’ children in centre stage. As in the books, this is the story of magical children, with their own anxieties and problems, working together to overcome obstacles.
Though the play isn’t the best story in the Harry Potter series it’s certainly worth reading if you want to know where Harry, Hermione and Ron end up as adults. I don’t think many readers will be surprised by Hermione’s job!