Which Witch? is written by Eva Ibbotson. It was published in 1979 by Dutton.
Arriman the Awful, the Wizard of the North, needs a wife. But which witch will Arriman choose? Warty, wicked, or just plain rude—witches galore enter his spellcasting competition. Mabel Wrack, half mermaid, specializes in fishy magic; old Mother Bloodwort knows every spell in the book (well, maybe not that turning-young-again one), and the Shouter twins would kill each other to win—really! Poor Belladonna, the smallest of the coven, doesn’t have a chance. As hard as she tries to be evil, her spells conjure up nice pink begonias or scrumptious ice-cream sundaes, not a single viper or toad. But Belladonna is determined to do something sinister in time for the contest and with the help of a mysterious orphan and a worm named Rover, she just might pull it off. That is, if Madame Olympia, an enchantress who accessorizes with human teeth, doesn’t get to Arriman first.
Which Witch? is really fun, gross witches aside, and reminds me a lot of earlier children’s fantasy (well, no duh, since this is earlier children’s fantasy). I thought the whole plot mechanic of the marriage competition was hilarious, and even though most of the plot elements were pretty obvious in regards to Belladonna’s sudden magical change, Ibbotson delivers it all so well that I didn’t even care.
I absolutely loved the running joke of Lester saying “oh, my gawd” and the lovestruckness of Belladonna and Arriman (and the aforementioned Lester’s disgust at the sight). The way Madame Olympia is disposed of is the highest order of poetic justice, and everyone else, even if they are awful, gets a somewhat happy ending.
Ibbotson really goes all out describing why her witches are “dark” (and why Belladonna is “white”), and it’s a little gross, but it’s fun to see the stereotypical witches have center stage. Also, Terence is a gem and did I mention the book is really fun (and funny)?
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Those dark witches are gross! Also, Madame Olympia makes rats eat each other, and then the last one standing eats itself.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“You’ve brought me luck,” she said. “You and Rover. That’s the blackest thing I’ve done, ever.”
“You mean you usually do white magic, like healing people and so on?” said Terence. It struck Belladonna that he seemed to have a natural feeling for magic and not to show any of the fears one would expect in so nervous a boy. “But do you want to be black?”
“Yes, I do. I do terribly,” said Belladonna.