In the dead of night, the Witchfinder General’s men came to Kelso and snatched away Art’s mother. Narrowly avoiding being taken herself, Art was left with nothing but a sword, her mother’s trusty book of remedies and salves, and her faithful horse Lady. It’s not much, but with the forest to guide her, she sets out from their small Scottish village and races across the English border to rescue her mother before it’s too late.
Best described as a lyrical folktale, The Forest of Moon and Sword is an elegant piece of children’s fiction from author and journalist Amy Raphael.
Set in 1647, when self styled Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins was fanning the all too dangerous flames of the European witch hunt craze, it’s a potentially dark setting for a middle grade read. But Raphael handles a grim setting with a deft and gentle hand, making what might frighten – whether that be all powerful witches or the all powerful patriarchy – becomes an adventure, as a young girl sets out to do the impossible.
Raphael’s writing is simple and concise, never getting too flowery. The plot moves along at a merry pace, even if it does rely a little too heavily on fortuitous chance encounters. Add that to a raft of beautiful illustrations from August Ro, it’s perfect for younger readers to devour solo.
At the heart of it all sits Art, pensive and frightened, yet driven and determined. She’s a well crafted guide, perfectly suited to lead this journey exploring where the line sat between a capable, self sufficient woman and a wicked witch. And as Hopkins ties a child’s thumb to her toe and prepares to throw her in a river, the answer to that question becomes abundantly clear – wherever the men in power say it is.
That’s not to say the novel is bogged down in it – not in the least – but as the gentle herbalism of Art and her friend Mercy comes up against the fire and brimstone of Hopkins and his ilk, it’s easy to imagine questions along those lines being raised during story time.
Best suited for those on the younger end of the middle grade bookworm scale, The Forest of Moon and Sword is engaging and exciting. Armed with just the right amount of menace to keep both the pages turning and the nightmares at bay, it’s a truly family friendly feminist folktale.