Nerdgirl Review 10:00:00 AM
Book: Ratchet, the Reluctant Witch
Author: Sara Pascoe
Genre: Young Adult
Page Count: 346
Synopsis: Be careful what you wish for. Fourteen-year-old Rachel Hollingsworth ('that's Ratchet to you, mate) is sick of living in foster care. Desperate for her independence, she runs away. But unaware she's a witch, she accidentally travels back in time to the notorious Essex witch trials, along with her social worker-witch mentor Bryony and Oscar the cat. They all face execution, their powers are failing and time is running out. They barely escape, but with Ratchet's powers still out of control, they land in Old Istanbul. Life is good here. In fact it's amazing. And her skills are coming on. She becomes known for her fortune telling, and eventually is invited to the Palace to read the Sultan's wife's future. But the Sultana has something else in mind. She holds Ratchet's friends hostage, until she does 'one small favour'. With her friends' lives in the balance, Ratchet has to make the most difficult decisions of her life, and carry them out - all on her own.
Ratchet’s fourteen. Her real name is Rachel Hollingsworth. But that’s too soft for her. She prefers life with, and on the edge. She’s been in foster care most of her life, and has had enough. So she strikes out on her own, leaves her bland foster carer and the boring English village for London. But she didn’t realise she’s a witch and her untamed powers inadvertently send her back in time.
Along with a sarcastic cat, that isn’t even hers, she lands in 1645 Colchester England, smack in the middle of the Essex Witch Trials—a dark chapter in history when hundreds of poor and disenfranchised women were killed for “witchcrafte”. With her spiky hair and jeans she sticks out like a vegetarian at a hog roast and gets thrown in jail with the other women who really were on trial (they didn’t call these places dungeons for nothing).
Her social worker and witch mentor, Bryony, goes back in time to try to save her, but nothing’s working. All three of them, the cat included, face the gallows. (They actually executed cats in these witch hunts, too. And before that, they put animals on trial—for real. In fact they destroyed cats on a regular basis in Medieval Europe, and burned a bunch at Queen Elizabeth I’s Coronation. I learned SO much interesting and weird stuff doing the research for Ratchet. But most of it never makes it into the book. It’s a well-known vulnerability, “brain dumps.” It’s so hard not to share all this cool stuff you learn, but you’ve got to put only the details in that move the story forward. Thank goodness for my brilliant editor, Lindsey Alexander.)
Anyway, back to the story. Ratchet, Bryony and the cat, Oscar, barely escape with their necks intact. But Ratchet’s powers are still untamed. They don’t return to modern London, but stay in 1645 but end up transporting over to Istanbul, instead. Now they’re cooking with gas. Continental Europe was a superstitious, fearful backwater next to the Ottoman Empire at this time. Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t perfect, nothing is when it’s humans doing it, eh? But at this time in Istanbul, you had hot and cold running water, soup kitchens for the poor, free hospitals for people and animals. And women had rights. They could own businesses, bring cases to court. It was diverse—Muslims, Christians and Jews were all protected under the law. In fact, lots of women from Europe escaped abuse and other bad situations, running away to Istanbul which accepted them with open arms. Most of this only gets into the story in the most tangential way, but you get to see the Ottoman Empire at its zenith through the eyes of an increasingly less jaded teenager.
You also get to meet Katip Celebi, a famous and forward-thinking scholar of the time. I read his original work (luckily translated into English), as well as lots about him. I wish I could have met him. Really cool guy. So the next best thing to figuring out how to a) time travel and; b) speak Ottoman Turkish, was to bring him into the story as one of the characters. And you get to meet regular Ottoman’s too, go inside their houses and sit down and have a meal with them.
Ratchet becomes a celebrated fortune teller and life is finally really good. Maybe running away has given her what she wanted after all. Maybe she should stay in 1645 Istanbul, even if it means her mentor Bryony (and the cat, although you should see how well they treated cats then, so he’s not worried) would be stuck there, as well (due to the laws of time travel—the person doing the trip in, has to do the trip out).
If this conundrum was not enough, through Ratchet’s not being able to resist the possibility of fame and glory, her dearest friends are put in danger if she doesn’t do one, last, dastardly deed. Can she? Should she? Does she stay in Istanbul?
I’m happy to provide any of the sources not included in links, or answer any questions about this book, or what to avoid when self-publishing. Or about the official cat ladies of old Istanbul!
About the Author
I came to writing after a career in psychology. From the Chimp House to the White House, with a lot of brain slicing in between, I had great fun and a lot of fascinating experiences.I adored the adventure of research, of being an explorer, as we carried out experiments to see what nature would reveal. I worked with some extraordinary scientists teaching chimps how to use language, studying how an enriched environment alters brain development, and how natural diseases ravage the human brain.
I also worked as a clinical psychologist in the US and the UK including the National Health Service, all rich and moving experiences. A public policy job in Washington, D.C., gave me a chance to work on programs designed to give more young people access to university.
Originally from the United States, I’ve lived on both coasts and in the middle—Chicago. I moved to Great Britain in 2004 with David, my husband, when his work moved him back to his native UK. We now live in Bournemouth, on the southern coast where we run a B&B for English Language students.