Tyche Books, 2020
The Witch’s Diary is a rollicking and fraught tale of a fresh-out-of-school witch, Hester Digitalis Wishbone, as she searches for work to pay off her student loans from her education at Grimoire College and gain Adept Accreditation. Her troubles only begin with when she loses her job thanks to an incident involving a burning prosthetic nose during her placement as a village hag That is not the only obstacle in her path, she must find a way to recover her recently lost magic (thanks to an incident involving fermented ghoul eyeballs, her favourite tavern, and half a phoenix) and deal with her exceedingly unhelpful and unsanctioned familiar Herman, a cockroach.
Then there’s her desperate search for union or non-union work. She has stints in the village crone business, as a magical potion barista, as a Shakespearean witch, and even in a circus on the Outer Plane (which is a level 7 Magical Null Zone). She deals with middle management, infernal lawyers, and a gargoyle building inspector who tends to fall through the roof.
All while she is trying to rekindle her magic and get the recommendation she needs to pass the Adept Rites. Hester is trying to stand on her own, despite constantly trying to hide her failure from her parents, to fulfil job expectations in bad environments, and to live by her commitments. Despite her tribulations, she shows a grim wit and determination that makes the reader like her failures as much as her successes; in her words “I’m a raze-the-fields-and-poison-the-wells kind of witch. If I’m going down, I’m going down in an age-ending fireball of destruction that will at least be memorable.”
Hester’s voice is so strong thanks in large part to Brae’s masterful jokes, and to her recasting Hester’s magical world and frustrating struggles into bizarre and silly situations that retain the seriousness of reality. Brae takes many classic folk tales and cultural touchstones (such as storks delivering children and Hansel and Gretel), and perverts them in creative ways. Who else could think of an organization called United Parents of Unsupervised Roaming Spawn (UPURS)?
The constant humour and playful tone of the piece can mean some connections are missed. It is hard to see the progress Hester makes as her experiences shape her, but it is rewarding to see how the impressions that she leaves on others coalesce into her future.
However, while the book does have many humorous illustrations, it is not a title for young children. It includes many adult scenarios that would go over their heads from “the customer is always right” attitudes to jilted and controlling exes, to malicious working environments. The humour lightens its tone and keeps it gingerbread-house-sweet, but there is a bitter centre.
The Witch’s Diary is a great read for anyone who is, has, or will soon be looking for work after acquiring student debt; life can vex you, but supportive friends, staying true to oneself, and the fine art of persistence will make you adept enough to ace any test worth taking. Rebecca Brae lives in Alberta, Canada and has a background in Criminology and Classical Studies, which informs her writing. She has co-authored two urban fantasy novels, Chaos Bound and Curse Bound, has a short story in the furr-tastic anthology Swashbuckling Cats: Nine lives on the Seven Seas, and drabbles in 100 Word Horrors and 100 Word Horrors 2.