Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
Thoughts and Themes: I heard about this one on bookstagram and booktok so when I saw it at the library I immediately picked it up. It took me a while to get into this book because it is a slow story and it doesn’t really pick up at any point throughout. I am glad that I stuck with it though because it is such a beautifully written book and I loved the world that this book takes you to.
I really enjoyed the world-building in this book and how this takes place throughout the book rather than just at the start of the story. The fact that we learn more as we read kept me immersed in this story and made me want to read more. I loved getting to learn more about the Protectorate and how that town came to be as well as the forest as Xan, Luna, Glerk and Fyrian make their way through different parts of this forest.
I loved that this whole story has a lot to do with misunderstandings and lack of communication. I thought it was great that throughout we see the mess that is caused by a lack of communication between people. I was so angry that so much of this was due to something that could’ve easily been solved but that is reality when problems occur due to communication.
Another theme that I really enjoyed in this book is found family. I loved Luna’s family with Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian and how important each one of them was to each other. I liked seeing their relationship strengthen over the course of the book and seeing how Glerk grows to love Luna.
Characters: In this book, there are several characters that you get introduced to as there are a lot of main characters. While this book centers around Xan and Luna, there are other characters that are quite important to the story as well as those who are important in their lives. Glerk and Fyrian are a part of Xan and Luna’s family and you get to know a lot about them throughout this story. You also get to meet Antain, a man who lives in the protectorate and is set on freeing his people from the witch. There is also the “madwoman” who is Luna’s mother and has gone mad with grief after her baby was taken as a sacrifice to the witch. Then there is our villain who I can’t say much about because that would ruin our story.
I loved all of the characters that you get to meet throughout this book and really enjoyed the relationships that they develop with one another. I loved Xan as Luna’s grandmother and how strong their bond with each other is throughout this book. I also really liked Fyrian’s playful nature and his relationship with everyone in the family.
I liked getting to learn about the people of the Protectorate and how they interacted with one another. I liked seeing the relationships they had with one another and why those relationships were important to this town.
Writing Style: This story is told in the third person and it gives you several perspectives. This story follows Xan, Luna, Antain, people of the Protectorate, and at some times Glerk and Fyrian. At first, I was not a fan of this story bouncing around between which characters I was reading about but by the end, I loved getting to see things from so many different viewpoints.
Most times an all-knowing narrator throws me off because I find the story not as interesting but this narrator was good. I liked that the narrator knew everything but didn’t reveal everything to us all at once. The narrator allowed our characters to slowly find things out for themselves and as they encountered new things so did we.
Kelly Barnhill is an author and teacher. She won the World Fantasy Award for her novella The Unlicensed Magician, a Parents Choice Gold Award for Iron Hearted Violet, the Charlotte Huck Honor for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and has been a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the Andre Norton award, and the PEN/USA literary prize. She was also a McKnight Artist’s Fellowship recipient in Children’s Literature. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her three children and husband. You can chat with her on her blog at www.kellybarnhill.com