The Witch's Boy


Michael Gruber


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

January 27, 2008

he Witch's Boy is the story of Lump, an ugly human boy who is left as an foundling infant for the witch of the Forest. Lump has yellow eyes and a big nose, he is hairy and misshapen - the note left with the infant says "a devil's child for the devil's wife". I don't recall if there was any explanation for Lump looking so ugly, apparently he is pure human. The compassionate witch decides to raise Lump, though Falance, her talking cat, warns the witch that she knows nothing about child rearing.

The witch entrusts the infant Lump to a nanny named Ysul, who happens to be a bear. When Lump gets older, the witch assigns Bagordax the afreet (a captured demon-djinni) to be his tutor. Needless to say, Lump's upbringing is unconventional. He longs to know how traditional humans live. Unfortunately, when Lump encounters a family of human woodcutters in the forest, they are not welcoming of the ugly boy. Bagordax convinces Lump to free him; this has disasterous results. A fateful meeting follows, in which the witch is judged before the fairy court, and she is stripped of her magical powers as a result. Lump does not appreciate the trouble he has created, nor the sacrifices made for him by the witch. Indeed, despite the problems he has caused, Lump continues to disobey the witch's instructions; Lump secretly watches the fairy dance - which has the sad consequence that henceforth he can never be satisfied with any normal pleasures. Any mortal who watches the fairy dance is forever soured by any joy or treasure that is less glamorous.

Without the witch's magic, the three companions must abandon their forest home (Falance the cat has been transformed into Falance the human swordsman at this point) - they go on the road performing as entertainers, visiting the large cities. Lump tries to fit into human society, he hides his ugly face behind a mask. But the curse of the fairy dance means he is incapable of being satisfied with anything, and he only succeeds in creating more trouble.

Many of the reviewers on Amazon for this book are entranced that Witch's Boy includes some warped retelling of traditional fairy tales - for example, the story of Rumplestiltskin is retold from a different viewpoint - but I didn't find that plot device that interesting. The biggest disappointment of the book is that Lump's character is so flawed throughout - Lump is not likable, so the story is not that likable. The Witch and Falance are much better characters, but this is Lump's story, not theirs. Also, the Witch was supposed to have been stripped of all her magic powers, but at several times Gruber resolves difficult plot devices by allowing the Witch to discover she has "one last bit of magic" in reserve.