The Forest of Moon and Sword

Written by Amy Raphael
Review by Louise Tree

In 1647, Britain is riven by civil wars. When Arty’s mother is taken away by soldiers, she finds herself at the heart of the Witchfinder General’s war on ‘disobedient’ women. Arty cuts her hair, dresses as a boy and saddles her horse, Lady, to begin a quest to save her mother from execution. The story’s pace is driven by a countdown to the witch hangings of the Summer Solstice as Arty rides from Scotland into Essex, through ancient forests to the Witchfinder’s castle. To find her mother, Arty must believe in signs, in ‘black cats and owls and foxes… and kindness.’ She must trust in her magical amulet and a mysterious stranger. She must also believe in herself, in her sword fighting and rope walking skills. When she does, she feels more like herself than she ever did before. She rescues a girl from the Witchfinder’s fatal witch test, and finds in Mercy the loyal friend she never had. They are helped by an outlaw band of girl fighters avenging the loss of their mothers. They all rely on the powers of nature, their own special abilities and an effortless companionship with animals. This ‘magic’ is the downfall of their mothers, the healing women who are now being imprisoned and hung as ‘witches’.

At times, reiteration of the story’s ethos slows the pace unnecessarily, as the worldview is sufficiently supported by plot and character; and the mechanics of the final victories do not quite convince.

However, this is an enchanting tale of intuition and dreams. It is a timely story of children’s optimism, openness, and how to trust in oneself under conditions of war and persecution. The black and white illustrations throughout will enhance a child’s experience of book-reading magic.