Nancy Springer, The Hex Witch of Seldom (Baen, 1988)

Raised by her Grandpap in Pennsylvania's Allegheny mountains, Bobbi Yandro, the young heroine of The Hex Witch of Seldom, is practical, tough and stubborn. In spite of these qualities, she is also frightened by the strange visions she sees; this is understandable, since her mother is a resident of a psychiatric hospital. Then her grandfather gives her a box full of her father's journals and notebooks, and Bobbi's life changes forever.

Bobbi had no idea that her father, killed in Vietnam when she was only a few months old, was a poet. His journals contain fragments that seem to speak to something inside her, stirring dreams and visions of mustangs running wild. She asks her grandfather for a mustang, and Grandpap, delighted by her interest, agrees. He is less pleased when she selects a black mustang stallion with eyes like blue fire, but Bobbi knows she has to have that horse. She knows there's something more to him, as if he were a man in horse's form.

She names the mustang Shane simply because she knows that is his name, and further infuriates her grandfather by allowing Shane to escape on the day that the vet arrives to castrate the horse. Sent off to look for the horse, she only intends to liberate him from the halter he wore when he ran off, but instead, Shane takes her on a journey that will transform her.

She meets Hazel "Witchie" Fenstermacher, the hex witch of Seldom, a ramshackle mountain village, who introduces her to the Circle of Twelve, a group of archetypal figures: the king, the old man of the mountain, the old sorceress, the madonna, the virgin, the fool, the poet, the trickster, the jester, Lady Death, the golden hero and the dark hero -- Shane. The trickster, however, is more than the typical troublemaker. He's out for Shane's soul, and it's up to Bobbi to stop him.

This is an absorbing and original contemporary fantasy. The plot is simple, tight and unobtrusive; it is the basis on which Springer builds her complex characters. Bobbi is a fresh and appealing character, hard as nails when she needs to be and completely innocent and vulnerable in others. Her encounter with Shane awakens passion in her, and Springer's evocative descriptions convey Bobbi's ranging emotions well. Witchie is a Pennsylvania Dutch pow-wow woman, a healer, but she is also part of the Circle, the old sorceress, and Springer blends the roles together into a vivid, lively character. Shane is the perfect dark hero, aloof, passionate and vulnerable to love. Springer's characters are far from glamorous, but they are very real. She also laces the book with wry humor.

The concept of the Circle of Twelve is never fully explained, but it is clear that some elements are present in all people to a greater or lesser degree. Bobbi discovers the extent of her power, but what is important is that she recognizes that what she does with it is entirely up to her.

Unfortunately, The Hex Witch of Seldom is out of print, but it is well worth scouring the Internet and used book stores.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

[ visit Nancy Springer's website ]