When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Across the forest that borders Ned’s village, Áine, the daughter of the Bandit King, is haunted by her mother’s last words: “The wrong boy will save your life, and you will save his.” When the Bandit King comes to steal the magic Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, Áine and Ned meet. Can they trust each other long enough to cross a dangerous enchanted forest and stop the war about to boil over between their two kingdoms?
“Barnhill is a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[The Witch’s Boy] should open young readers’ eyes to something that is all around them in the very world we live in: the magic of words.” —The New York Times
“This is a book to treasure.” —Nerdy Book Club
A Washington Post Best Book of 2014
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2014
A Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Book of 2014
A Chicago Public Library “Best of the Best” 2014
About the Author
Kelly Barnhill lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children. She is the author of four novels, most recently The Girl Who Drank the Moon, winner of the 2017 John Newbery Medal. She is also the winner of the World Fantasy Award and has been a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, a Nebula Award, and the PEN/USA literary prize. Visit her online at kellybarnhill.com or on Twitter: @kellybarnhill.
Read an Excerpt
Once upon a time there were two brothers, as alike to one another as you are to your own reflection. They had the same eyes, the same hands, the same voice, the same insatiable curiosity. And though it was generally agreed that one was slightly quicker, slightly cleverer, slightly more wonderful than the other, no one could tell the boys apart. And even when they thought they could, they were usually wrong.
“Which one has the scar on his nose?” people would ask. “Which is the one with the saucy grin? Is Ned the smart one, or is it Tam?”
Ned, some said.
Tam, said others. They couldn’t decide. But surely, one was better. It stood to reason.
“For god’s sakes, boys,” their exasperated neighbors would sigh, “will you stand still so we may look at you properly?”
The boys would not stand still. They were a whirlwind of shrieks and schemes and wicked grins. They would not be pinned down. And so the question of which one was the quick one, the clever one, the more wonderful one, remained a subject of some debate.
One day, the boys decided it was high time that they built a raft. Working in secret, and with great attention to detail, they constructed it using scraps of lumber and bits of rope and cast-off pieces of broken furniture and sticks, careful to hide their work from their mother. Once they felt the vessel was seaworthy, they slid it into the Great River and climbed aboard, hoping to make it to the sea.
They were mistaken. The vessel was not seaworthy. Very quickly, the rushing currents pulled the raft apart, and the boys were thrown into the water, fighting for their lives.
Their father, a broad, strong man, dove into the water, and though he could barely swim, struggled through the current toward his children.
A crowd gathered at the edge of the water. They were afraid of the river—afraid of the spirits that lived in the water who might snatch a man if he wasn’t careful and pull him toward the dark muck at the bottom. They did not dive in to assist the man or his drowning children. Instead, they called out helpful comments to the terrified father.
“Mind you keep their heads above the water when you drag them back,” one woman yelled.
“And if you can only save one,” a man added, “make sure you save the right one.”
The current separated the boys. The father couldn’t save them both. He kicked and swore, but as he reached one boy--the closer boy--his twin had been swept far down the length of the river and out of sight. His body washed ashore later that day, swollen and aghast. The people gathered around the small, dead child and shook their heads.
“We should have known he’d bungle it,” they said.
“He saved the wrong one. The wrong boy lived.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Greatest book from ages nine to adult. Takes a great headline, starring Ned, the Bandit King, and Aine. Oh, don't forget the magic. I highly recommend it.
Twin brothers Ned and Tam fall from their raft into a raging, bewitched river and Tam gets swallowed up and carried away. Ned, when he finally comes around finds he stutters, cannot make sense of words to read, and lives under the constant barrage of ridicule and scorn from fellow villagers, hearing non-stop that the wrong brother lived. Ned does not know that in order for him to live, his mother, a witch, had stitched his dying brother's soul to his chest. Ned lives in isolation with his mother and father and is convinced that he is weak, mentally challenged and his life will never get any better. Ainè, a resourceful and practical girl, lives with her Bandit King father. Her evil father goes to Ned's village one night with his motley crew and tries to steal away the magic that Ned's mother protects. Ned's mother is on a mission to the Queen and is absent from their home. Seeing the eminent danger that befalls not only his family but his entire village Ned steps forward and absorbs the sneaky and contriving magic and becomes a local hero by not only protecting his family but also his entire community. As fate would have it, Ainè and Ned work together against the Bandit King and with the help of a rogue wolf and seven giant stones make their way back through a large, enchanted forest to finally put the magic in its rightful place. By so doing they are able to stop a war that will surely rip both their worlds apart and set both Tam and the stone creatures free to move on. I truly loved this book. The writing is rich and detailed and I found myself creating windows of time where I could once again escape with the book to find out what happened next. The story line is creative and engaging and I know it would make a perfect movie that both young and old would love. I highly, highly recommend this book.