Irena Brignull, The Hawkweed Prophecy

Orchard, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-40834-170-4

Two girls are swapped at birth. Both grow up isolated and lonely, hundreds of miles from each other. Both are misfits. Poppy's mother never totally accepts her, and becomes steadily more depressed and mentally unstable. Poppy herself is unable to make friends and is expelled from school after school as one misadventure follows another. Fires start when she is angry. A plague of rats appears. She is the despair of her father, who eventually moves with her far from home. It is not long before problems begin again. Her only reliable companions are cats and spiders. Ember struggles in quite different ways. Brought up in a coven of witches, she alone fails at magic. The everyday tasks required in a rural community with no modern amenities she can accomplish, but as the daughter of one of the Hawkweed sisters she should be capable of far more. A three hundred year old prophecy foretells that the daughter of one of the sisters will become queen of the witches. Ember's powerful aunt Raven leaves nothing to chance in her determination that it will be her daughter Sorrel, not Ember, who comes to power.

Then Ember and Poppy meet, and both their lives start to change. For the first time, Ember discovers the modern world. Poppy learns about witchcraft. They find friendship, something new to both of them. And both of them fall in love with the same young man.

Leo is another outcast, with a perilous existence on the streets. Poppy and Ember cannot both find happiness with him. They struggle with jealousy. Meanwhile a mightier struggle emerges. Dark forces are unleashed as the old queen comes to the end of her life. There is an epic battle between witch clans.

Brignull's debut novel has the feel of a dark fairy tale, with touches of magic realism. While its length (over four hundred pages) and the romance element may be off-putting to some readers, this will appeal to lots of lovers of fantasy fiction. A sequel is due out in 2017.