The Witch’s Hand
The Witch’s Hand
This high-end, fast-paced graphic novel is thick, long and physically heavy. The illustrations are rich, deeply colorful and classy, often startling and fantastical, even scary in keeping with the thriller genre. The story, unfortunately, has some weaknesses, but overall, it holds up and draws readers forward.
Set in a small town, it features teenage orphaned twins Pete and Al whose guardian David has a daughter (Charlie) their age. It’s a thriller mystery with touches of fantasy and horror. Pete, Al and Charlie see themselves as detectives, but, in fact, all three have inherited magic powers from their parents; they’re just not trained yet on how and when to use them.
The antagonist is a witch-hunter who allegedly murdered his wife when he discovered she was a witch. Now, it appears his teen daughter Rachel has inherited some of her powers and is disturbing dark secrets in pursuit of revenge and freedom.
Flicking from one group of characters in action to another helps maintain tension, and the teen dialogue and humour are spot-on. The characters are diverse (a black magic-mentor, Middle Eastern-looking antagonist and Pete being LGBTQ+). Both the artwork and conversation hold true to the 1960s setting, complete with a record store, mention of a drive-in theatre, Al’s ownership of an old-school camera, and words like “swell.”
Unfortunately, the speech bubbles have very thin white lines linking them to the speaker, and the lines often disappear against the artwork, constantly confusing the reader as to who is saying what. Worse, it takes many pages to figure out the characters’ relationships to one another. David (the guardian) says “You aren’t my kids” to Pete and Al early on, but it’s unclear for a long time what he is to the twins (who you learn early on are brothers but don’t discover are twins for a long time unless you’ve remembered the title).
The very first line in the book is “Thirty-seven minutes late, Charlie! He was thirty-seven minutes late today!” Due to the over-thin lines connecting speech bubble to speaker, the fact that Charlie can be a boy’s name and the expectation that the first line in a book is significant, the reader spends several pages trying to figure out who’s who, how they’re related and who the heck was 37 minutes late. Turns out the latter was just the paperboy, a rather insignificant item with which to kick off a novel. This is immediately followed by meeting David and Al, with no clear idea of how they’re related except that Pete calls him “David” instead of “Dad.”
Likewise, the graphics hint at Pete and Charlie being a romantic item (confusing in that the reader is still wondering if they’re siblings, or whether David is running some sort of group home for teens). That is ruled out when Pete divulges to Al that he’s gay – a scene that is not integral to the plot at all, making it feel randomly pasted in.
Eventually, belated “reveals” let the reader sort out who is who and what’s going on, and then things get interesting. The fantasy plot, itself, is relatively believable, as are the characters. However, it seems unnecessary that a book for teens chooses to portray chain-smoking characters (including some of the teens), never mind the teen drinking and foul language (hence pushing it into an older-teen read).
Further, some may be offended that a major aspect of the plot (a teen girl being abused by her father needs rescue) is entirely unexplored, as if it’s merely a device for unleashing revenge, witches and black magic.
Curiously, too, for a book that begins by featuring two male teens as lead characters, it evolves into a feminist-style crisis, climax and resolution, with David’s wife Shelly (heretofore a minor character, as adults should be in a teen novel) abruptly taking a heroine role, overshadowing the courageous acts of the original protagonists, the twins.
Charlie: “From what I can tell, the ritual that Rachel used requires a major sacrifice to the ‘Mother’ and must be completed on the last night of the moon – tonight… This is heavy-duty shit, you guys. It calls upon the Goddess Hecate…”
“…basically the founder and CEO of Witchcraft Industries,” adds the kids’ magic mentor.
Still, The Witch’s Hand is a rollicking story with imaginative thriller touches and gorgeous artwork.
Pam Withers of Vancouver, British Columbia, is an award-winning author of 22 young-adult novels and founder of www.YADudebooks.ca.