Welcome back to my analysis of A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison. I’ll be quoting directly from the book and noting things that are working well, as well as things I would have changed. I do this as an example of how you should be reading books when you are a writer studying them for craft.
You can view the first five chapters that I’ve analyzed on my Buy Me a Coffee by becoming a member.
A Pinch of Magic
A spellbinding middle grade fantasy about three sisters who go on a quest to break the curse that’s haunted their family for generations.
All Betty Widdershins wants is an adventure–one that takes her far away from Crowstone, the gloomy island where she’s always lived. But instead of an adventure, Betty and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, are given of a set of magical objects, each with its own powers: a scruffy carpet bag, a set of wooden nesting dolls, and a gilt-framed mirror. And these magical objects come with their own terrible secret: the sisters’ family is haunted by a generations-long curse that prevents them from ever leaving their island–at the cost of death.
The sisters set out to break the curse and free their family forever. But after stumbling upon a mysterious prisoner who claims to be able to help them, they find themselves in great danger. And in order to break the curse–and stay alive–they must unravel a mystery that goes back centuries, one that involves shipwrecks, smugglers, and sorcery of the most perilous kind.
Welcome back! We’re diving into chapter 3 of Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison. Are you reading along or have you read this book? What parts worked for you? Or… why did you put it down?
What in crow’s name had just happened… How was it even possible?
- We don’t want to use questions are part of a narrative often, but here is a place where it works well. Some crazy stuff just happened. Betty should react to it before we move on. Simply asking a question in the narration is a great way to show her react succinctly rather than saying some like “Betty was bewildered.”
Betty held the bag at arm’s length, afraid it would swallow her up and spit her out again in some unknown place.
- Can a carbet bad eat you and transport you? No. Would a 13 year old be scared of a bag that had just done exactly that? Absolutely. This is what we mean by truth in fiction. Things need to make sense and that can be, and often is, as simple as showing the right reaction to the extraordinary.
“Granny?… Are you a… witch?”
“A witch? Dear me, no!” …
“B-but your b-bag…”
“Yes, yes, I know. We started in one place and ended up in another. It’s a traveling bag, not a broomstick. And guess what? One day it’ll be yours!”
This only made Charlie cry harder.
- Again, realistic. The bag that ate you, hurtled you across town, and made you feel like you fell off a building is going to be yours. I’d cry too. That sounds terrifying.
- There is some characterization here for Granny as well.
- She’s clearly traveled by bag before and often enough that it’s lost its magic.
- She basically waves Charlie away, writing off what just happened as if it happens every day. And for Granny, it just might.
“But how…?” Betty began… Witches were make-believe, weren’t they? Or did Granny use more than beer to bamboozle?
- Betty just wondered if Granny was a witch or if she got people drunk.
- Betty is getting inquisitive here. She’s obviously flabbergasted, who wouldn’t be, but she’s also showing her curiosity.
- It’s brave of her to inquire about the bag and how it works, when she could easily react as Charlie does.
- The fact that Granny doesn’t know how the bag works is dangerous. Hopefully, as the book goes on, we’ll get an explanation of the magic. Not just for readers but for Betty as well.
“That… that mirror Granny gave me on my birthday,” Fliss continued. “It does something, too… it lets me talk to people… who aren’t there.”
“Who aren’t there?” Betty echoed.
- So Fliss uses the mirror to talk to strangers.
- It’s clarified that the people are real and alive, just in different places.
There’s a solid page of history that’s at least relevant to the adventure, but this isn’t how I would impart this information. It’s quite dumpy. We learn that the objects are handed down to the girls in the Widdershins family. Each object is bound to its inheritor so no one can swap. Betty’s dolls make her invisible, Fliss’s mirror lets her talk to others, and Charlie’s bag transports them.
It’s nice to know what these magical items can do, even if we don’t yet know why they’re passed through the family or how non-magical people can use them.
We also learn that their father is a braggart, but we still don’t know why he’s in jail. He knows about these gifts and they are the only secret he’s ever managed to keep.
We still don’t know what the curse is exactly or why the Widdershins can’t leave Crowstone. It seems their father has left, though. So it would seem the curse only affects the girls–even those who marry into the family like Granny has.
I’m hoping we get some answers soon since we’re being introduced to the curse so early. It seems like Granny has a lot of answers to give us, which is nice, but I would have liked for Betty and her sisters to discover this information on their own somehow.