Babes In The Wood by Mark Stay
The Witches of Woodville Part 2
In a quiet village in rural Kent, a magical mystery leads to murder . . .
Woodville has returned to 'normal' after the departure of the Crow Folk. The villagers put out fires from aircraft shot down in the Battle of Britain, and Faye Bright discovers that magic can be just as dangerous as any weapon.
The arrival of a trio of Jewish children fleeing the Nazis brings the fight for Europe to the village. When their guardian is found dead, Faye must play nanny to the terrified children while gathering clues to uncover a dark magic that threatens to change the course of the war. And she must do it quickly – the children have seen too much and someone wants them silenced for good.
For fans of Lev Grossman and Terry Pratchett comes the second novel in this delightful trilogy of war, mystery and a little bit of magic . . .
Babes in the Wood is the second in Mark Stay’s Witches of Woodville series, and I have to say that after reading The Crow Folk (not that long ago, I might add), I can’t stop raving about these books. They are just bloody brilliant and so much fun.
The story starts not too long after the events of The Crow Folk, with Faye now being a fully fledged trainee witch under the tutelage of Mrs Teach and Mrs Southill. However, whilst she has finally got her wish of being a witch, things aren’t working out as well as she planned and she is learning more about what not to do, rather than being a proper witch that helps people.
In the midst of this, she keeps having ‘funny turns’ in which she can see the future.
The book really kicks off when a Hurricane crashes into the local garage and she has to save three German children and a young German man called Klaus from a crashed car, though these are children who have been saved by the KinderTransport (the organised rescue effort during World War Two to rehome Jewish children) and sent to stay with the local Lord and Lady Aston
It is when she meets the children and Klaus that her visions really start to become more of a problem as she starts to have visions of death and murder.
Not only that, Faye has to deal with a problem much closer to home – Boyfriends!
In Babes in the Wood, Mark Stay changes the focus of the book to focus more on the war in this book and the residents of Woodville realise that the war is closer to home than they think, what with the Battle of Britain raging in the skies overhead and the injured soldiers being housed at the local Manor House.
In addition to that there is the actual effects that the war is having on other people, particularly with the introduction of the three Jewish children.
I couldn’t fail to be impressed with Babes in The Wood and the Witches of Woodville as a whole. Mark Stay deftly interplays light and dark whilst keeping the comedic element to his book. He will skilfully interject moments of comedy with some pretty dark horror elements, and they will creep up on you without notice.
As I said, the tone of this book is a little different from the first one but it continues to maintain its allure. Babes in The Wood at times plays like a cosy murder mystery set in the quintessential English countryside village that never was, but then it becomes more of a spy thriller and then something that’s akin to a Denis Wheatley novel, whilst falling on classic sci-fi/horror like The Midwich Cuckoos (which is referenced quite nicely in the village fair scene).
In addition to this, Mark Stay will carefully interject some quite weighty subjects like anti-Semitism, classism and prejudice whilst masking it with a rose-tinted comedy lens.
Again, all the characters are brilliantly realised (and heightened to just this side of parody), and Faye is her usual gobby and irreverent self, reminding me of Emily Lloyd in the film Wish You Were Here. Especially when she cries ‘Up Yer Bum!’ several times in the story. Furthermore, the village gets expanded somewhat and we get the introduction of new characters, such as Dougie Allen, the car mechanic from Glasgow who talks to his cars.
If you haven’t read The Witches of Woodville series, I highly recommend it. Yes, it is very light, but it is just so much fun. It is filled with brilliant characters and is a wonderful breath of fresh air. But don’t be deceived, whilst it might seem all jolly hockey sticks and full of jinks and japes, it has that nice touch of weirdly dark stuff happening just under the hood.