Witch & Wizard opens with 15 year old Wisty, her 17 year old brother Whit, and their parents about to be publically hanged for being witches and wizards by a modern day New Order. Then it flashes back to when they were first kidnapped by the New Order, which is where the story really starts. At the end of the book, we’re back to the exact moment when the novel started, and all that’s changed is that Wisty feels certain they’ll get out of this somehow (there’s a sequel, so she appears to be correct). As an introduction to a series, I suppose it works, but it left me with a nagging feeling of having gotten nowhere.
Wisty and Whit had no idea they were witches and wizards until the tyrannical New Order (“Say yes to NO”) commandeered the Overworld and started doing away with all artists, writers, musicians, and of course, anyone who could do magic. It turns out that Whit and Wisty are not only capable of magic, but they’re the powerful duo prophesied to save the world.
The book is blisteringly paced, with incredibly short chapters—some just a page, few if any over 3 pages—with the point of view switching between Wisty and Whit. The action never lets up, which adds to the relentless pace. There are a few places where you have to accept that some things don’t make sense and just go with it (for instance, I can’t imagine why the kidnapped kids are each allowed to keep one personal item when every thing else including their clothes is taken from them in prison). Personally, I’d have liked a little more character development, but that’s my hang up. Whit and Wisty are amusing enough for me not to regret the time spent with them.
Instead of naming books, bands, and songs from our world, there are lots of almost-the-same namedrops. My copy of the book had a few pages of supposedly banned or destroyed books, artists, musicians, and museums that all have correlations in our world. Perhaps kids will find it funny, and appreciate it when they realize what the real things are. Personally I found it kind of annoying, but I may be a curmudgeon.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The New Order doesn’t hesitate to enforce its rules with violence—the kids are hit, starved, and taunted. Others are tortured and killed. It’s a brutal reality they’ve entered. Wisty and Whit fight back as necessary—Wisty catches several people on fire, for instance—but they aren’t exactly bloodthirsty. Nor are there really any consequences for what they do to people. Overall, it’s not terribly graphic, as descriptions would slow down the plot.
Whit’s beloved girlfriend, Celia, was murdered by the New Order because of her connection with him. She appears as a ghost and a kind of guide through the novel. There are second hand stories of kids being vaporized by the New Order. When Wisty returns to the prison where she and Whit had been held, she finds the bloated body of one of their captors—apparently executed for allowing them to escape.
The New Order gained power through a long term plot that involved bought elections and propaganda until they were in a position to take over the Overworld. They put science and logic and rationalism above all. The One Who does (fill in the blank) has nearly total power over that realm. So there’s The One Who Interrogates, The One Who Judges, and so on. The place is run by The One Who Is The One. It’s a military rule, with soldiers marching through the streets, and citizens encouraged to turn in their neighbors for any perceived rule breaking. The world is recognizably modern, and not so modern that it feels like the future. There’s almost an implication that this could be our reality in the near future.
The resistance is all kids, there’s a prophecy that kids will rise up and govern the world better than adults ever did, and at the center of the prophecy are the most powerful witch and wizard, who happen to be teenaged siblings. Not all the kids are angels, though—some betray the resistance, some are willing to lie to get what they want, etc.
Whit and Wisty are separated from their parents for most of the book, but through flashbacks we get the idea that they were loving and supportive—even if they did neglect to tell their kids anything about their magical potential. Although they tease each other occasionally, Wisty and Whit obviously love each other and overall get along well.
Witch & Wizard is a bit like getting dumped into the 7th Harry Potter novel without any of the character development. The emotional impact is much less because we don’t know any of these characters enough to be terribly emotionally involved with them, but there’s the same “our world is ending and only this group of kids can save it” feel. It’s probably suitable for ages 10 and up, as long as they’re fine with kids really being in danger and occasionally killed.
Even though the book looks long, its pace is non-stop and the short chapters keep the length from being intimidating—this might be a good book for some reluctant readers. They’re also not wrong when they say it’s for “readers of all ages”—it was my mom who gave me this book after enjoying it herself.
My copy had pages from the screenplay for the upcoming movie, as well as “deleted scenes” from the book, which I assume were chapters that were cut or significantly rewritten. I can’t help but think this book was destined for the screen before it was even written. There are also pages and pages of all the other books James Patterson has written, which makes this book feel a bit like a marketing vehicle.
Witch & Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Published in 2009 by Vision
First in a series
Read my mom’s hard copy