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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This story is inspired by Latin American myths the author's Colombian grandmother told her as a child.
Strong messages about gratitude, teamwork, bravery, sacrifice, and not fearing failure. Folktales warn against greed, temptation, jealousy, and vanity.
Positive Role Models
Tor begins unhappy with his fated path to be a leader. His adventure to find the Night Witch makes him grateful for what he had, determined to sacrifice everything for friends and family. Bravery replaces his fear of failure, though he still isn't comfortable with his new fate at end of story.
Violence & Scariness
Three 12-year-olds are attacked by trolls, a giant snake, a bone creature, and soldiers with arrows and swords. A curse eats at their veins, causes pain and gashes on the skin, threatens to kill them. A poisonous frog makes a boy pass out. Stories of people who turn into monsters after terrible deeds, including trying to drown their own children and killing many. A woman admits to eating her own children to stay alive.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Curse of the Night Witch is the first book in the Emblem Island series by debut author Alex Aster. Aster was inspired by Latin American myths her Colombian grandmother told her as a child. The main character, 12-year-old Tor, and his two friends cross their dangerous island alone and are attacked by trolls, a giant snake, a bone creature, and soldiers with arrows and swords. A curse eats at the trio's veins, causes pain and gashes on the skin, and threatens to kill them. A woman admits to eating her own children to stay alive. Short folktales are interspersed with the main story warning against greed, temptation, jealousy, and vanity. These stories hold the most violence. People turn into monstrous creatures after terrible deeds, including murder and trying to drown their own children.
Is It Any Good?
This magical island quest tale with Latin American flare has the makings for a good series start but suffers from rushed storytelling. Young first-time author Alex Aster is bursting with great ideas -- not a bad problem to have unless you try to cram them all into one quest and don't pace yourself. It's hard to believe how fast the story veers from one locale to the next -- from encounters with a troll in the mountains to a vain monarch in a castle to a snow beast in a frozen village to a giant snake in a jungle ... and there's a desert in there somewhere, and an abandoned town, and many more places on a single island. And somehow with all these terrains and adventures it takes them only a week to get to the other, shadowy cursed side of the island, all on foot minus a brief balloon ride over the mountains and a zip line through the forest. It doesn't seem plausible, and some fantastic opportunities for world building and for getting to know the characters get lost in this huge rush to the next monster and next location.
Yet the ending of Curse of the Night Witch bodes well for the series: The main character, Tor, has a huge task ahead of him and a whole island to save from evil. Plus, he may get shunned by his own people for who he's become. Let's hope Aster takes her time with the sequel to breathe real life into all her great ideas.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.