The Lost Witch by Melvin Burgess (audio book review).

Bea is driving home with her parents and younger brother when they encounter a magical hunt that opens Bea’s eyes to a world she never imagined could exist. Until then, Bea had no idea that she was a powerful witch but, once her powers emerge, she finds a local community of witches who introduce her to the magic that’s all around her. An age-old battle between good and evil is reaching its climax and Bea has a pivotal role to play, but which side she is on is far from clear. In a world where nothing is as it seems, Bea must work out who to trust as she fights to save her family, her friends and maybe even her soul.

‘The Lost Witch’ by Melvin Burgess started out pretty slowly and it took me a couple of false starts before I finally got into the swing of the story. That might be partly due to the softly spoken nature of the audiobook narrator, Kate Rawson. She was perfectly adequate for the story and made the characters stand out as individuals really well but perhaps lacked a bit of punchiness that I’ve heard from other narrators, which meant that I sometimes found my attention wandering.

It’s difficult to quantify how much the narration affected my enjoyment of the story, but I’m pretty confident in saying that my opinion of it would have been much the same if I’d read it myself. I enjoyed several sections of it but had definite issues with the audio-book as a whole.

For starters, the pacing is all over the place. The first section crawls along at a snail’s pace, then suddenly two pretty dramatic years pass in the blink of an eye and suddenly the world is about to end and I’ve no idea what has actually happened. I really struggled to adjust to this change in pace, particularly because the section that covered the most detail was the one where the least happened, so I ended up being bored in that bit and then frustrated when the more important things were glossed over.

I found the main character, Bea, a bit inconsistent and really couldn’t summon up any attachments to her, generally true for the other characters as well, although I found several of her story events to be a bit disturbing. There is a section of the book where and yes, this is a bit spoilery but needs a mention: Bea is essentially kidnapped, mentally abused and raped by an older man. During this time she commits some fairly awful acts, but everything she suffers is almost exclusively blamed on her when she finally escapes.

Now I’m not a sensitive soul in any way, but the way in which rape and abuse were glossed over and treated as fairly trivial events in what is otherwise quite a twee little magical adventure story genuinely made me feel quite uncomfortable and, to top it all off, it really didn’t add anything at all to the story. It’s going to trigger a lot of people and I think it could have been dealt with in a much better way if the author felt strongly that it needed to be included. Personally, I think a careful excision of just a few scenes would make this more accessible to many more readers, although it would still suffer from poor pacing and shallow characters.

I’m writing this review a couple of weeks after I finished because I wanted a bit of time to process how I felt about some of this story. As it turns out, the feeling of unease about this story hasn’t really left me and I really want to make sure it isn’t accidentally included in the younger section of my local library which, given that Amazon lists it in ‘teen and young adult romance/fantasy’, is exactly where it’s going to be shelved. While there are some great moments in ‘The Lost Witch’, I’d urge you to approach with caution and definitely pre-read before gifting it to any younger relatives.

The prices of Audible title always seem like a lot and £15 is on the cheap end of the spectrum to be honest, but the reality is that nobody ever pays them because they just sign up for a membership and use a credit instead.

A membership generally gives you one credit a month to spend on whatever you like, with the options to buy more credits if you want to. As there’s no commitment, buying a membership is basically equivalent to buying a single credit, which is £7.99 and can be used to buy any single title, from short 2 hour books to the epic 72 hour recording of ‘The Complete Sherlock Holmes’.

So while the list price could be anything from about a tenner to upwards of £50 (the list price of the Sherlock Holmes collection is £79.99 and the HG Wells collection I’m listening to is down as £49.99), nobody really pays more than £7.99 the majority of the time.

Vinca Russell

July 2019

(pub: Audible Studios, 2018. 586 minute audiobook. Price: £14.99 (UK), $16.35 (US) or 1 credit if you sign up with their website. ASIN: B07DY5G62F)

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