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Mara of the League #1

The Witches of Crannock Dale

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When an enemy army threatens eleven-year old Mara’s home, she makes up her mind to save her family, one way or another. But when the knights protecting her village arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft, she discovers that the difference between friend and foe may not be as obvious as she once thought.

283 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 24, 2019

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About the author

Thomas M. Kane

16 books183 followers
I grew up in Maine, amidst hills and forests much like those of my favorite fantasy novels. After a few years publishing supplements for role-playing games (Shadowrun, AD&D, Cyberpunk and Ars Magica to name a few), I moved to the UK where I taught strategy and international relations at the University of Hull. Twenty years later, I have taken the opportunity to return to Maine and to fiction writing.

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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Athena (OneReadingNurse).
651 reviews90 followers
September 17, 2022
For a middle-grade, this one checks pretty much all the boxes for me.  I can’t speak for the rest of the series yet but Mara is 11 here, and the content stays 100% age audience appropriate. Although she is 17 in book two I believe it remains a middle grade age level throughout.

Mara is a very smart and brave little girl who eventually becomes a spy for her country in later books. Here in Witches we are introduced to Mara and her family and learn about the plots and political conflicts happening in the world.  Told in the first person point of view of an 11 year old, I think it’s a marvel that Kane had me interested in the imposter bandit king and how the war will eventually unfurl.

Mara is an easy character to root for as she becomes involved in local issues.  I liked her brother too and the rest of the family.

As I’m obviously not 12 anymore (hahah) when reviewing for middle grade, I tend to look more at whether the book is fast paced (yes), interesting (yes), repetitive (no), and age appropriate (yes). I think it will hold their attention well. It’s also extremely well edited for a self published book so that’s helpful!

Are the themes something I would want my little niece reading? Yes, absolutely. Mara has to navigate complicated adult politics while still doing what she thinks is right. She also learns  that sometimes rules do have a time and place in society, and that actions can have severe and unintended consequences.  I like the sense of responsibility she has towards family and even town & country.

The issue I had is that the audio itself did not hold my interest, likely due to the Authors Direct app and a few challenges that it presented. That was an experience related issue though and I think Stevie Marie was a pretty solid, clearly spoken narrator. I did end up reading on Kindle Unlimited though and was then lucky enough to see the map and drawings.

Overall: I’m excited to keep reading to see how Mara and the war develop.  It’s a solid middle grade read that I think YA can enjoy too since Mara ages fairly quickly in the books
Profile Image for Laura.
989 reviews13 followers
October 21, 2019
3.5 stars

I picked up this book expecting witches and magic. What I got instead was witches but no magic as well as a child's adventure with a deep insight into human nature.

The book is difficult to read at times because of the 'uncomfortable' nature of the topics it raises. Not that they are badly told. On the contrary. They appear blunt and brutal because of the particular way in which they are presented. No one really likes it to be told a truth in the face, especially if said truth is disturbing. And Thomas Kane's book does just that.
It will tell you about those little dirty secrets both within a family and humanity as a race. And it will show them to you from a child's POV. It will make it clear to you that the child sees through all that subterfuge; that she really knows what's going on despite the fact that grown ups are trying to hide it. It gives you real gritty life that's no candies and cupcakes but dirty and mean and REAL!

When an enemy army threatens eleven-year old Mara’s home, she makes up her mind to save her family, one way or another. But when the knights protecting her village arrest her favorite aunt for witchcraft, she discovers that the difference between friend and foe may not be as obvious as she once thought.

cover art by Robin M. Byrrell

Someone had rang the bells not only in Mara's village, but everywhere. And the knights blamed that on Mara's aunt, accusing her of being a witch.
Now would you like to know what Mara thinks?
"So here's what I think. I think the knights are hiding something. Someone rang the bells. Maybe it was an accident or maybe there was another reason that we don't know about. The knight are supposed to get to the bottom of it all, but either they can't and are ashamed to admit it, or they can but don't want to. So they blame witches because you can always blame anything on witches. Milk curdles and people say it was witches."

And if you were wondering what a witch is, let's allow Mara to explain:
"A witch is someone who scares people. I always knew that, sort of, but I was starting to understand it in a new way. You can become a witch without meaning to. You can become a witch by being right."

Trying to save her aunt Mara from the knights, Mara gets swept into an adventure that will uncover a far-reaching plot endangering far more than her aunt's life.
She makes mistakes with grave consequences;
'I hadn't meant to, but as mama liked to say, that's the worst excuse in the world.'
but she matures and makes a difference.

Written in an excellent prose by a clearly talented writer, this book is filled with little snippets about life, learning, compassion and understanding.

From a child's view on married life:
'Maybe, I thought, waking up married will be more like waking up sick on the floor of someone else's shed under a cloak that wasn't really big enough to make a good blanket and having someone you hoped was your friend tell you to bugger off. Maybe waking up married will be like wondering whether running away from home and stealing lots of money from dangerous people has really been such good idea after all.'

to a child's reasoning on doing what she's told:
'If we all kept doing what we were told, all the bad things that were happening were going to go right on happening.'

and solid advice given to little brothers:
'As I pulled my brother's boots off, I looked him in the eye. "Jason, don't say 'shit' in front of the grown ups."'

this book will lay out the gritty 'uncomfortable' stuff in life. Mara is exposing these with a frankness that bites.

"You are the most terrifying person I have ever met." This is how she is referred to by the end of the book by a certain character. And I tend to agree.

Personally, I found Mara's musings a bit horrifying at times, because no child should think that way!! Though I am sure some do, which in itself is a saddening prospect. And she did seem to speak in a little too mature manner for her age once in a while. But then that is just my opinion.

Because of it's frankness, this tale will not appeal to everyone. But if you are one of those who don't mind being shown the dirty gritty truths of life, then you should give this a try. It is a truly beautiful tale! A tale of courage, reckless adventure and growing up! A tale that will make you pause and think!
I recommend it to all those who like a read with substance.
Happy reading! :)

Find this review and more on my book review and cover art blog The Magic Book Corner
Profile Image for P.J. Berman.
Author 6 books25 followers
April 20, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Witches of Crannock Dale.

This fantasy novel deals with two very challenging issues. The first is the issue of being a child in a country threatened by war. The book is told from the first person by 11-year-old Mara, and so we are party to her rollercoaster of emotions and experiences as she finds herself getting way too deep into a world of deception, treason, and the framing of scapegoats.

The second main point that the book discusses is the subject of cold wars and proxy wars, although you’ll have to read the book to fully see what I mean by that!

I would highly recommend The Witches of Crannock Dale, and have recently started reading the second book, The Rebels of Caer City.
Profile Image for Robert Nugent.
Author 3 books16 followers
October 20, 2020
The Witches of Crannock Dale served as my entry point to the writing of Thomas Kane, and for those of the "too long; didn't read" review-seekers, I'll say this upfront and get it out of the way: I was highly impressed with this book and loved every second of it.

In The Witches of Crannock Dale, we follow Mara, a young girl just shy of her teenage years. When the book quickly introduced itself as a low-fantasy setting with a very serious, very realistic tone to it, I'll admit I became skeptical of the choice of protagonist. While it's not unheard of, writing grim themes from the eye of a child and making it convincing to the reader is a difficult task at best; it requires a balance of "getting to the point" and remembering that this is a child witnessing the events, and the portrayal must be how a child would interpret what they see. It's hard to strike that sweet spot of writing a child and successfully reaching the maturity of the topics. In that regard, Kane wrote this aspect perfectly and as the story went on, I found myself enthralled with his choice of viewpoint.

In this Early Modern, 16-17th century-ish tale, Mara's story begins when her aunt is accused of and apprehended for suspected witchcraft. This places Mara on the path of seeking to prove her aunt's innocence, which as she never could have guessed, was only a piece of a greater puzzle, one involving high intrigue, from the movement of large sums of money, to conspiracy, statecraft, and military action. By the end, Mara begins to understand the nature of humanity, family bonds, and the glue which holds society together.

The Witches of Crannock Dale has earned a place among the best novels I have read for this year and I cannot recommend it enough. It goes without saying that I am very much looking forward to reading the next installment of the Mara series.

Profile Image for Michele Quirke.
Author 2 books121 followers
January 29, 2021
Wow! It has been a long time since I read a book with such a young protagonist, but I really enjoyed this! Mara is wise beyond her years, courageous, and so fun to read about. I love how sometimes she acts so young, but other time she's able to recognize things even the adults in her life can't see. I highly recommend The Witches of Crannock Dale and look forward to reading the next book in the series!
Profile Image for Joshua Grant.
Author 22 books234 followers
February 18, 2020
Thomas Kane gives us a tale of espionage and the powerful bonds of family in The Witches of Crannock Dale! When Mara’s village is threatened by an enemy army, she believes the knights of her village will defend it. But when those very same knights arrest her aunt, accusing her of being a witch, she discovers that an invading army isn’t the only threat to her family. I love the way Kane couches a more intimate, touching story of a family’s struggle to stay together within a greater world of politics and spycraft. There are a lot of moving pieces in The Witches, but Kane maneuvers them masterfully in a way that drew me in to Mara’s story! I’m looking forward to the next one!
2 reviews
November 13, 2019
I loved this book! In the vein of J. K. Rowling, Thomas Kane writes a fascinating young heroine with a storyline complex and intriguing enough for an adult audience as well. Excited for the next installment!
33 reviews
November 14, 2020
4 stars
This book was much better than I expected. It was intelligent, detailed, with a good chunk of intrigue woven through, and had a strong thread of tension that kept me reading from start to finish.
While the tone of the character is young, you can almost feel her willing herself to leave behind childish urges/desires as she forces herself to understand the world around her.

The main protagonist, Mara, is young and ignorant in some ways, but very smart to a degree that was a little uncanny. How she saw the people around her, and made decisions on the fly, were believably impulsive. Seeing things through her eyes helped, as her mind grew to understand the complex lives and interactions around her. I think the author did really well to show a fast building intelligence.

I do like to read a good lot of detail on daily life and general protagonist thoughts, in a complex situation, so this book worked for me, but it might not be for everyone.

After finishing this one I was glad there was another in the series, so I could see how Mara will grow and how she will fit into the world around her.
Profile Image for J.S. Burke.
Author 6 books448 followers
September 16, 2021
This fast-paced adventure has a clever, intrepid girl as its unlikely heroine. Young Mara lives with her father, mother, and brother in a simple village that is constantly preparing for war. Mara’s world begins to fall apart as soldiers gather to fight; her brilliant deductions are not appreciated. The one person who understands her is a mysterious spy . . . but can she survive his devious plans?

There are beautiful descriptions: “I was aching with fear – fear ringing in my ears, fear glaring like the sun.” Later, “My thoughts clung to me like my clothes in the sticky air.” I also enjoyed the musings on all-out war, with layers of destruction as systems fall apart. It’s an excellent, well-written story. Five stars!

Profile Image for E.J. Dawson.
Author 7 books105 followers
May 2, 2020
I received a copy of this book for an honest review.

The whimsical nature of eleven year old Mara trying to avoid math problems and with a too curious nature by half is reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables. Mara’s ingenuity and boldness isn’t met with half so many disasters, but the problems Mara faces are no less dire, if not more so. An intriguing journey into adult problems, Mara navigates the threat of foreign invaders and a witch hunt that includes people in her own family. An enjoyable read, a well built world, and a raw picture of human nature that’s evocatively revealed in this tale.
Profile Image for Liliyana Shadowlyn.
2,043 reviews54 followers
January 12, 2021
A powerful story about war and family. Life is rarely black and white, and Mara quickly learns this when war comes to her hometown. There are some uncomfortable things confronted in this book, first and foremost how life changes and how people adapt in times of war. Although set in a fantasy world, there isn’t magic (at least not the kind you would expect in a fantasy book). Mara is a smart, strong heroine, and I look forward to the second installment in the series.
May 28, 2021
Mara wrestles with complex questions of morality, politics, sociology, and statecraft, all at the ripe age of eleven. Kane's tale is highly substantive and engaging throughout.
Profile Image for Fran.
Author 2 books31 followers
November 12, 2020
In Witches of Crannock Dale, we meet Mara, a bright eleven year old girl whose life changes when her favorite aunt is accused of witchcraft. Determined to prove her innocence and save her, Mara stumbles onto a larger puzzle that could have implications for her town, her family, and even her life.

The character of Mara is a pleasure to get to know. She's very smart, and a strategic thinker, but just as we're a little too impressed with her cunning, something will happen to remind the reader (and Mara herself) that she's still a child. Mara's family also had great dynamics. So many books about bright, resourceful children have parents who are absent in some way. But Mara's parents are an active part of her life and her story. Through her adventures, Mara comes to recognize that they're people, flawed in some ways and admirable in others.

The author has a difficult task in this book: he has to tell his story through a child's perspective while still maintaining the reader's interest. It's admirable how he manages to do it.
1 review
November 12, 2022
Mara is a young girl armed only with an eye for detail and a questioning nature. When her aunt is accused of witchcraft, Mara sets out to clear her name. Whilst Mara is a smart girl, through her naivety and inexperience readers never lose sight of the fact, she is a child. Whilst her efforts cause ripples, they also result in terrible mistakes that can't be fixed. No spoilers! Shaken, and with the threat of imminent war, coupled with her parent's grown up problems, Mara seeks to understand the workings of her world, restore her courage and find her voice. All without disappointing her family.
Such a multi-layered story, set in a close knit, fictional, rural town in a fascinating world rich in lore, political jostling and other conflict. Not everything is as orderly as appears. Full of unexpected developments from the perspective of an uncommon little girl, The Witches of Crannock Dale is well paced, intensely earnest when needed, and brilliantly written.
Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews

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