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 to my analysis of Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison. Let’s dig into chapter two!
When last we met, Granny had just appeared out of nowhere even though, we’re absolutely certain she wasn’t on the boat. I even went back to check to see if I missed any hint that any passenger could have been Granny. This woman was not on the boat.
“How did you… Where did you come from?”
“Never you mind.” Granny glowered at her… worse still, Granny had brought the ugly old carpetbag she insisted on carrying everywhere, though goodness knows why.
- This is so embarrassing and intriguing. Not only is Betty in trouble, but Granny is a hot mess. Her hair is messed up, she’s wearing a shabby coat, and her boots don’t match. Plus, you know, that hideous bag that our eyes were forced to zero in on.
- It’s a great piece of foreshadowing about the bag. Betty hates it. Granny carries it everywhere. And this line makes us look at it. Our attention is deliberately forced to look at this hideous bag because it’s about to be important. This scene was set very nicely.
- The bag isn’t listed with Granny’s description, that’s how we know it’s special. It has its very own line to plant suspicion in the reader.
“I know that what you think,” Grany cut in. “But you’re thirteen years old! You know nothing of the world. There’s plenty out there that could harm you, things you don’t know about…”
- This is such a quintessential part of kidlit and growing up. There will always be gatekeepers and you will always be too young. The important thing is knowing when you act anyway.
- Granny is clearly hiding something. In that sense, I don’t like that it’s obvious that she’s hiding something. It’s a bit too on the nose. While we already know that Betty is going to learn about the family curse, I’d rather it not be given to her. I’d like to see her activate it somehow.
Why didn’t Fliss want to escape the everyday drudgery, or care about Granny controlling them anymore?
- Fliss obviously already knows about the curse. It’s a subtle detail but I like this plant. It’s a nice way of showing the reader that the girls will learn about the curse as they come of age. Or they’re supposed to learn about it that way, at least.
- Whatever the curse is, it’s enough to turn off Fliss’s defiance of Granny.
“There’s more to life than Crowstone.”
“No, there’s isn’t.” Granny’s eyes were haunted. “There’s no leaving this place. Not for us.”
- Aha! The curse! It feels very early to set this about, but it’s information we knew we were going to get upfront. This curse is part of everyday life for the Widdershins and we’re still early enough in the book that everyday life is being set up.
“Very well… I’ll tell you. No more secrets.”
- Granny could’ve put up more of a fight here. Kidlit is often fast-paced but I think this could have dragged on until they go home, especially since Granny is supposed to be so hardened.
- On the other hand, it’s all upfront so we can at least focus on the upcoming adventure.
Granny opens her carpetbag and transports Betty and Charlie back to Poacher’s Pocket.
- The setup on the bag was really well done and I think observant readers will feel well rewarded for the payoff.
This chapter was very short and outside of travel by carpetbag, not much happened. It did move the plot forward, but I felt like its only purpose was to move the plot forward. The “That’s what you think,” “You’re only thirteen,” and “There’s stuff you don’t know,” are very cliche especially for kidlit and I wish they’d been written differently or approached in some other manner. And then, for all that, Granny still just rolls over and tells them about the curse. Characters need to find their own answers. I would have liked to see Betty get caught and then investigate her grandmother.
A gold rule of kidlit: adults should not gift solutions.
And that’s what happens here and in the next chapter. A gift of information.