With over 12.6 billion views online, #BookTok has taken the world by storm—an ever-growing community of readers that shares reviews, anecdotes, mood boards, and more about the books they have read. Ever since the hashtag went viral, certain books, even those that had already been published for several years, soared back up to the top of the New York Times bestselling list. In author Alex Aster’s case, just one online video under the BookTok hashtag catapulted her to online fame! The video has amassed over one million views to date and garnered widespread attention over her already-published middle-grade duology, Emblem Island. The first book in the series, Curse of the Night Witch, follows three teenagers on a quest to save themselves from imminent death.
In the magical realm of Emblem Island, people are born with emblems on their hands that prophecy their talents. But young Tor Luna, born with a leadership emblem, detests his mark. His plan is to submit a wish to the gods on his village’s New Year’s Eve celebration and hope for a new emblem the next day.
Sure enough, Tor wakes up to a new emblem on his arm—the black, blinking eye of a curse! And when his best friend Engle and enemy Melda accidentally touch the curse, a duplicate of the eye travels up their arms, too. To their horror, the trio realizes that if they do not figure out a way to get rid of the curse in a week, it will be there forever—until they die. Now Tor, Engle, and Melda must travel across the colorful but dangerous island to beg the assistance of the Night Witch, all while the ticking time bombs on their arms track every breath that they take.
This was a spellbinding fantasy book about friendship, bravery, and everything in between! Emblem Island was a rich tapestry of bright colors, tropical waters, and mouthwatering food, and the Latin influences gave the world a familiar feel while still retaining a unique form.
One way in which Curse of the Night Witch was so unique was the book-inside-a-book idea. This novel included excerpts from a fairy tale book of sorts called The Book of Cuentos, which would be told every other chapter. These excerpts always aligned perfectly with the actual story. For example, when The Book of Cuentos talked about a perpetually snowy town, Tor, Engle, and Melda actually visited the town in the story. It was a fun and fascinating way to provide context to the story, rather than dumping information on readers, and the execution was seamless.
The thing that bothered me the most was how similar this book was to its successful predecessors. It especially drew similarities to the Harry Potter series—both books involve chosen-one main characters, a funny, food-loving best friend, and the teacher’s-pet character who turns out to be all right in the end. It almost felt unoriginal in that sense, like I was reading something I already had before. However, the mythology retelling has been done so much, especially recently, in the book industry, that it is understandable if comparisons can be drawn between this book and others.
Overall, Curse of the Night Witch is a wonderful ride full of the splash of tropical seawater and the cold bite of endless ice. I’m usually not one to say you should jump on the bandwagon, but in this case, you absolutely should—hundreds of thousands of readers online have already enjoyed this lovely book, and there’s no reason why you can’t be the next!
Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster. Sourcebooks Young Readers, 2020. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!