Half-Witch

John Schoffstall  - published October 2019

A Big Mouth House Book
hardcover · 320 pages · $18.99 · 9781618731401 | ebook · 9781618731418
paperback · 9781618731678 · October 22, 2019 · audio: March 29, 2019

NPR Best Books of the Year
“A marvelous blend of whimsy, terror and deep feeling.”

Locus Award finalist
Crawford Award finalist
Junior Library Guild Selection
Locus Recommended Reading

Kind-hearted Lizbet and witch girl Strix embark upon a perilous quest where even the fate of Heaven is at stake.

In the world in which Lizbet Lenz lives, the sun still goes around the earth, God speaks directly to his worshippers, goblins haunt every cellar and witches lurk in the forests. Disaster strikes when Lizbet’s father Gerhard, a charming scoundrel, is thrown into a dungeon by the tyrant Hengest Wolftrow. To free him, Lizbet must cross the Montagnes du Monde, globe-girdling mountains that reach to the sky, a journey no one has ever survived, and retrieve a mysterious book.

Lizbet is desperate, and the only one who can help her is the unpleasant and sarcastic witch girl Strix. As the two girls journey through the mountains and into the lands of wonder beyond, on the run from goblins, powerful witches, and human criminals, Lizbet discovers, to her horror, that Strix’s magic is turning Lizbet into a witch, too. Meanwhile, a revolution in Heaven is brewing.

Reviews

“John Schoffstall’s Half-Witch is one of those books that are simultaneously so startlingly original and deeply familiar I can’t quite believe they’re debuts. . . . Half-Witch is a marvel of storytelling, balancing humor, terror and grace. Lizbet is so earnestly good, in a way that I think has fallen out of fashion but that I loved reading. She and Strix are a perfect double act, and the shape and texture of the friendship they build is a joy to discover. . . . This is a book of crossing and mixing, of mashing and counter-mashing, with surprise and wonder the result. The ending suggests a sequel, which I hope comes about; the book’s last act is full of revelations (as it were) about the especially strange nature of Lizbet’s world that I’m keen to see Schoffstall develop and explore. But Half-Witch is also fully satisfying in and of itself.”
— Amal El-Mohtar, New York Times Book Review

“John Schoffstall’s Half-Witch is the darkest of the dark horses, the most out there of the outliers, and the traditional review venues haven’t given this a lot of attention—one lonely star from Kirkus, one tepid review from School Library Journal. But look a little deeper and you’ll find high praise coming from the New York Times, NPR, and Locus Magazine, as well as literary fantasist Kelly Link and others. This is a strange book, one that involves God and witches and brims with humor that will appeal only to some readers. It’s slightly episodic, set in a strange fantasy world—a little medieval, a little gothic, a lot unexpected—with an unlikely pair of heroines, one deeply religious and one a witch. It’s hard to know how to take this; is it blasphemous, or deeply spiritual? Is it high fantasy or low? The odds of consensus are so slim, it’s almost not worth speculating about the chances—yet this is an odd, fizzily delightful read, with a strong setting, well-developed characters, and rich themes, that makes readers work for understanding even as they wander with Strix and Lisbet. Plus, the sentence-level writing is seamless. In other words, this has everything a winner needs—except maybe readers.”
— Sarah Couri and Karyn Silverman, School Library Journal

“Thoroughly delightful. . . . It embraces the absurdity of its medieval setting, with cheeky devils and superstitious townsfolk and even Jesus popping in for a chat, but the emotional core is anything but silly. These girls may only be half witches, but they’re each fully awesome.”
— Christina Ladd, Geekly Inc.

“Other highly recommended titles are Half-Witch from John Schoffstall, a traditional fantasy except that the sun orbits the world and God takes part as a not-very-helpful character . . .”
— Laurel Amberdine, Locus

“This book was a delight. Schoffstall’s writing is dazzlingly clever, funny, and heartfelt. The world he creates is familiar yet unique and, like all the best books, it takes a piece of you and replaces it with something else, something stronger. A scar healed, a bone mended, a pair of birch tree legs that can cover the most treacherous terrain so long as you have a friend like Strix by your side.”
— Eric Bosarge, Vernacular Books

“Plenty for all to chew on in its vision of a magic-inflected Europe and a protagonist with a direct (if interference-riddled) line to God.”
— Graham Sleight, Locus “Ten books of the year”

“Even a fantasy world strictly conforming to medieval Christian cosmology cannot withstand an unlikely friendship between human and witch in a picaresque middle-grade debut.
After 14 years fleeing across the Holy Roman Empire, Lizbet Lenz has learned to avoid attachments. Yet when her ne’er-do-well father finally lands in jail, she’s ready to beg help from anyone: margraves, witches, God (with whom she has regular, literal, if one-sided conversations). Only Strix, a witch girl crafted from leaves and rubbish, is willing to aid Lizbet’s desperate venture across the impassable Montagnes du Monde; unfortunately, that assistance may be turning Lizbet herself into a witch. In this wildly imaginative alternative Europe, the delicately evolving relationship between kindhearted, pious, fiercely determined, and achingly lonely Lizbet (“fair-skinned, like most northern folk”) and surly, bellicose, but resourceful Strix (“the brown of autumn leaves”) provides a sweet counterpoint to a tale otherwise teeming with selfishness, violence, and cruelty, where even heaven fails before the legions of hell. This last plotline, played at first for mordant (and potentially blasphemous) humor, subtly coalesces all the seemingly unrelated episodes until they suddenly transmogrify into a climax that’s genuinely thrilling, unexpectedly poignant, and oddly reverent. As Lizbet and Strix together realize their individual identities and agency, even greater joint adventures beckon.
Not for everyone, but readers who appreciate powerful female friendships and sui generis whimsy will cherish it.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“There is something deeply satisfying about a traditional fantasy with plucky protagonists, nefarious villains, hungry goblins, tricky witches, and a dangerous and difficult quest. In John Schofstall’s Half-Witch, everything you expect to find is present, plus a lot of unlikely twists and turns that make this adventure a classic read. . . . As they continue their quest, Lisbet and Strix become the very definition of plucky, and it is hard not cheer them on. They are charming characters who overcome all sorts of fantastical obstacles and forge a powerful friendship.”
— Colleen Mondor, Locus

“Extremely twisted, with a wicked sense of humor that had us snorting and reading passages out loud to anyone who would listen. The friendship between the leads is one of the loveliest relationships we’ve ever read in a teen book.”
— Pegasus Books, San Francisco Chronicle

“In a Europe where goblins coexist with the literal (but unhelpful) Holy Trinity, Lizbet is sucked into a magical quest with only the surly witch-girl Strix as a companion. Like all great children’s books, Half-Witch is not afraid to put the big stuff on the page: they match wits with the Pope of Storms and corpse-eating earth-witches, and also with human violence and cruelty. An edge-of-your-seat adventure about friendship, trust, and what it means to be changed by someone, Half-Witch is like The Golden Compass as written by Roald Dahl.”
— Lauren Banka, Elliott Bay Book Company

Half-Witch gave me the same atmospheric shivers that The Bear and the Nightingale gave me; it’s got that same fairy-tale quality that makes every word seem a little bit like it’s shrouded in fog, like you are discovering the book as you are reading it. And it has that same weird blend of folk-lore and Christianity that makes for a wild and excellent contrast of ideas and themes and makes me want to just dig in and discuss this book. It’s a slightly creepy, unsettling, atmospheric, beautiful story about friendship and love and the journey it takes to get to those emotions, the trials humans face and the ways they change when faced with growing up and losing their ways. It’s about Loss. It’s about Finding. It’s about Being Made New. And while I don’t know if I really liked this book, I absolutely enjoyed it. (Also the cover is gorgeous. That’s important to note.)”
— Megan Szmyd, Book Shop of Fort Collins

“A picaresque fantasy debut in the mode of L. Frank Baum, in which witches and magic and God and goblins populate a world that is possibly just next door to our own. Lizbet and the witch girl Strix are delightful company in which to set out on the road.”
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

“Fourteen-year-old Lizbet Lenz is used to not getting close to anyone and having to flee in the middle of the night thanks to her father’s penchant for getting in over his head. When he gets thrown into jail for causing a rain of mice it’s up to Lizbet to rescue him by scaling mountains everyone claims are impassable. As she travels, she gains a companion in Strix, a witch who doesn’t believe in friendship but looks out for Lizbet as she gets into trouble. This fantasy adventure has strong spiritual undertones, where God is not a distant unreachable figure, but someone who people can have a conversation with when they take Communion. Lizbet wrestles with her religious views as she is propelled into a world of goblins and demons in order to free her father and stop herself from being sent to an orphanage. The world feels like an antiquated version of our own—albeit with magic—though the exact time period is not clearly defined. Almost every movement made by Lizbet and Strix gets them into some kind of difficulty, which maintains a quick-paced plot and the threat of danger around every corner. Characters are initially childish in their beliefs and stubborn when those beliefs come into question. However, both Lizbet and Strix manage to grow over the course of the narrative.” —School Library Journal

Previously

July 12-15: Readercon, Quincy, MA

July 21, 1 p.m.  The Lahaska Bookshop, First bookstore signing!

July 26, 7 p.m. Farley’s Bookshop,

John Schoffstall has published short fiction in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and other venues. He is a physician, and once practiced Emergency Medicine. Now he follows Candide’s advice and tends his own garden. He lives in the Philadelphia area.

Cover art by kAt Philbin.

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