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The Ragwitch
Garth Nix
HarperCollins, 391 pages

The Ragwitch
Garth Nix
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia. He left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin. He returned to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After graduating in 1986, he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher's sales representative, and editor. He left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, until he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002, Garth went back to dedicated writer again. Garth currently lives in a beach suburb of Sydney, with his wife Anna, a publisher, and new born baby Thomas Henry.

ISFDB Bibliography
Garth Nix at HarperCollins

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


'Julia screamed as she joined the Ragwitch's senses, a long, inward cry of pain. Normally, it just felt unnatural and somehow unclean, but this time, pain lanced through her and she could see only blurred, cloudy visions through the Ragwitch's eyes.'
Originally out in 1990, this republished version of The Ragwitch predates Sabriel, the author's breakthrough success, by five years. Unfortunately it shows, leaving the book a few notches short of what Garth Nix can do today. The story begins when Julia and Paul, two Australian children, discover an Aboriginal midden on a deserted beach. At its summit is an odd birds nest, containing a ball of feathers, inside of which is a rag doll. Julia chooses to take this home, and by the time darkness falls, she's been possessed by the Ragwitch; the spirit of a supernatural entity from another dimension. Julia is made to return to the world where the Ragwitch once ruled, when she was called the North-Queen. Helpless to prevent this, Paul follows close behind, but emerges into a huge forest, where he's taken prisoner by inhuman guardians called the May Dancers.

At this point the story holds the promise of better to come. But instead of finding the hero inside, Paul flails around as if the author has literally lost the plot. Meanwhile, the more interesting Julia awakens to find that she's a prisoner inside the mind of the Ragwitch, and her stolen body is being used to reignite the Ragwitch's inevitable plans for war and conquest. Despite this fantasy 101 approach, the segments dealing with Julia's fate are often tense and engaging, but those featuring brother Paul are more likely to be dishwater dull. A secondary issue is the names that Nix chooses for the Ragwitch's creature army, which include vanilla plain fantasy beasts lumbered with the awful name Gwarulch. This conjures images of something unpleasantly moist squelching between the toes. Only the bandage wrapped figure of Oroch, the North-Queen's architect, and Lyssa, who is the spirit of the Rowan tree, show Nix really using his imagination.

'"The Wild magic isn't something you can get hold of… or even control'," said Lyssa. "It may be summoned, and sometimes dismissed, but what it does in between is anybody's guess."'
The Ragwitch conducts massacres of villages, which she forces Julia to watch, while Paul's uninspired rescue mission takes him to meet the Wise; a collective title for a group of individuals who live up a mountain. We meet one such entity, who comes across as someone in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Paul is told that he has to seek out the living embodiments of the four elements, who hold talismans that, in concert, can unlock the wild magic. His task is made all the more tedious by those who aid him, the most engrossing of whom is a rabbit called Leasel. While this is going on, sister Julia is swimming in the Ragwitch's mind, where she encounters far more absorbing characters, such as Lyssa, and the dead king Mirran, who has been trapped and insane within the Ragwitch's memories from when she was last defeated. As the plot evolves and revolves, it hints at Child's Play, Around The World in 80 Days, and Dr. Dolittle, at the expense of inventive original characters including the Patchwork King and the May Dancers. I finished reading with the impression that if Garth Nix wrote this book today, it would be an award winner. Instead, it's an older, distinctly average work, dusted off by the publisher to make a few dollars more.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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