Now I knew what it was like to wake from a deep sleep and still be afraid long after the nightmare is over. I stared into the darkness, not daring to move. It felt as if there wasn’t enough air in the room. I struggled, gasping for breath. It was as if there was something else in the room, using up my air.
The fire in his home was a family tragedy that Jamie can’t forget. Fire dominates his waking thoughts and haunts his dreams. When his family sends him away to Crownhill to recover, they don’t realize they are sending him to a village with its own dark history of witchcraft and ancient buried powers, unleashed by Jamie’s presence. As the dark secrets of Crownhill and its witches are revealed, Jamie has to confront his worst fears in order to free himself from the horrors of the past.
At first, Jamie isn’t too worried about the bad dreams he’s been having since coming to his aunt’s house. Most people awoken in the middle of the night to find their house burning down would probably have nightmares, too. But instead of fire, he keeps dreaming of a “horrible, scary old woman,” relentlessly coming after him for some awful, inexplicable purpose. Even though he’s come to Aunt Jane’s to recover from the fire’s aftermath, he doesn’t want to bother her or his cousin Alison with his silly fears. He can see that they are very busy with their village’s community service project—cleaning off an age-old carving on the side of hill that overlooks the town. But when the carving turns out to be a peculiar primordial figure instead of the “crown” that the people of Crownshill expected to see, and Jamie uncovers evidence of an ancient witchcraft trial in local history papers, he is swept into a centuries-old mystery to which he unwittingly has the key. Who is the old crone chasing him, and what does she want? Jamie will have to endure an experience worse than fire to find out.
British author Marcus Sedgwick has written another perfectly creepy, perfectly wonderful middle-grade thriller. Like his debut novel, Floodland, Witch Hill is written in just the right tone for those suspense seekers who have graduated from Goosebumps but aren’t quite ready for Stephen King. And while most of the popular witchcraft fiction on bookstore shelves targets girls, this engaging mystery with its fiery cover and whodunit plot will draw boys into its puzzling pages as well. (Ages 10 to 14) —Jennifer Hubert