Grayling doesn't want to be a hero, but to save her mother from a dark enchantment, she seeks out the few second-string magic makers who haven't been immobilized by the spell and goes off in search of her mother's grimoire, or book of magic. Obstacles both natural and supernatural block their way, and friction within the group delays the journey. Surprising herself, Grayling finds the strength and decisiveness to move the group forward and reach her goal. Eccentric witches and wizards plus a shape-shifting mouse provide moments of high comedy, as do odd practices that date back to the Middle Ages, such as divination with cheese.
Bringing fantasy elements to the historical terrain she is known for, Newbery Award winner Cushman (The Midwife's Apprentice) introduces timid Grayling Strong, who must stop a terrible dark entity that has invaded the land and caused those with magic including Grayling's "wise woman" mother, Hannah to become rooted to the ground, their skin slowly turning to bark. Having no magic of her own, Grayling embarks on this quest equipped with a few magically infused songs and a basket full of potions intended to keep her safe. Shortly into her journey, however, a curious mouse finds his way into the basket and consumes the magic inside, leaving Grayling with a loyal, talking, shape-shifting pet she names Pook. They are soon joined a handful of spirited compatriots with questionable magic: Auld Nancy, a weather witch; her spoiled great-niece, Pansy; and an enchantress named Desdemona Cork. Written in Cushman's characteristic straightforward, character-focused style, the story focuses less on plot, which is fairly formulaic, and more on Grayling's path to discovering her own strength, wit, and determination. Ages 10 12.