To free his sister Julia from the clutches of the Ragwitch and her evil minions, Paul must journey across time to a distant dimension and rally the forces of good to rescue Julia and save the magical Kingdom of Yendre. Reprint.
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing #145;Hail the Conquering Hero Comes#146; or possibly #145;Roll Out the Barrel#146;. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a trunk full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.
Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher#146;s sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before becoming a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to writing full time again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.
Garth currently lives in a beach suburb of Sydney, with his wife Anna, a publisher.
Both children actively oppose the ragwitch, although Julia's situation is far more horrific. She is wired into the ragwitch's nervous system while the evil, old sorceress shambles from atrocity to atrocity.
(Actually, I grew fond of some of her minions, called the Stone Knights. If you've ever seen the movie, 'Monolith Monsters' you'll be able to figure how the Knights pounded into combat).
Once Paul is transferred to ragwitch's original world through the ring of fire, he suffers more than his share of perils, including a battle or two. He finally finds friends and sets out on a quest to locate each of the four Elementals, Wind, Water, Fire, and Earth. If he can talk a good line, they might help him defeat the ragwitch and her destructive minions.
This is my favorite part of 'Ragwitch.' The Elementals are not the usual clichéd characters found in other fantasies I could mention. The author expends lots of imagination on them---I was never certain whether Paul was going to succeed in his quest, or die trying.
It isn't every boy who gets to meet Mother Earth, while digging for potatoes.
I can't remember how I would have handled this horror-fantasy mixture when I was under the drinking age. The book certainly veers toward the gruesome edge of Young Adult fantasy ---think of it as 'Hansel and Gretel' on steroids.
We open to see Paul and his sister Julia, playing on a beach where Julia finds a rag doll embedded in enormous black feathers and a bunch of sticks. Though Julia seems thrilled with the doll, Paul immediately gets "bad vibes" from the doll -- and hears a sinister voice calling it the "Ragwitch." Within minutes, Julia is taken over by the doll, and begins a transformation into an enormous living version of the Ragwitch -- a malevolent creature who surpasses C.S. Lewis' White Witch.
The Ragwitch escapes into another world, and Paul follows her. Julia is trapped inside the Ragwitch's mind, constantly hearing the Ragwitch's voice and seeing/hearing what she does. Upon arriving at her destination, the Ragwitch summons her hideous army of unnatural, distorted creatures. They begin to attack the innocent people nearby -- including an old witch who has a strange effect on the Ragwitch. Julia gains unexpected allies locked within her enemy's memory: the witch Lyssa, attacked by the Ragwitch; Mirren, a king that the Ragwitch locked into a shambling animalistic form; and a mysterious red-haired woman who may be the key to helping defeat the evil hordes...
Paul refuses to give up on his sister, and learns from a peculiar old hermit that he must gain the help of the wild magic Elementals -- Fire, Water, Earth and Air. The problem is that all four may or may not choose to help him. He must also deal with the rather eccentric Patchwork King, the keeper of all magic...
Perhaps the book's biggest flaw is the beginning. While we come to know and like Paul and Julia over the course of the book, we leap straight into the finding of the Ragwitch without knowing much about the characters, their background, their family, etc. An introductory chapter might be nice. And since there was a gap of a few years between the writing of two parts of it, the style of it seems to flow more easily in the second half than the first. The dialogue also is a bit stilted in the beginning, but grows easier as the book progresses.
Anyhow, the Ragwitch herself is horrific. My initial reaction was "Raggedy Ann meets the Exorcist", but frankly after a while I stopped thinking about the idea of a sentient rag doll, and focused on the sadistic evil of her. Yet at the same time, we are given a glimpse of the person that the Ragwitch once was (well, before she got a body of "indestructible cloth") and how she became the monster that she is. The Elementals are sufficiently different in temperament, from the crabby Water to the kindly Earth to the flamenco-dancing Fire. We don't get to know Paul as well as Julia, since Julia does a great deal of introspection, while sometimes it felt like we were focusing more on what Paul was doing than on Paul himself.
This is definitely a YA book, as many sections of it will be horrifying for younger children. Oroch, for example, is a pretty creepy character -- Nix doesn't tell us what he looks like under his bandages, but the implication is enough. We also get a girl possessed by an evil creature, massacres of humans and assorted battles (not graphically shown).
Nix also displays a fantasy tactic that he used later in Sabriel, and which he does extremely well: the mix of high fantasy and more modern things, such as the hot-air balloon, and the various foodstuffs that the Patchwork King conjures. This is not an easy thing to do convincingly, but Nix does it in rare style. He also managed to pull off an ending that a lesser author might have fumbled.
This book is not as textured as Sabriel or its sequel. But it is nevertheless an effective fantasy with a dash of horror. Well worth the read!