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The Ghost of Ivy Barn
- Mark Stay

Read July 2022




Described as 'Terry Pratchet meets Dads Army' and 'the last ten minutes of 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks', The Ghost of Ivy Barn is the third installment of the wonderful Witches of Woodville series. Set in a small Kentish village during WW2, this monster-of-the-week book is a great read for anyone who likes their fantasy soft and a little bit weird. The book follows on from the events of The Crown Folk and Babes in the Wood, with the same cast of colourful characters and a handful of new ones. While these books can be read in any order, I'd recommend following the release order to fully appreciate young Faye Bright's path into witchdom. Witchery? Witchness? Witch-ever one it is (see what I did there?), you'll find it thoroughly enchanting. For those of you in a rush, my short summary is this. The Ghost of Ivy Barn is the perfect book to get lost in for 90-odd thousand words with a bit of magic, a bit of romance and the question of whether we work better alone or as part of a team.


The Story


(Warning: contains minor spoilers for The Ghost of Ivy Barn and Babes in the Wood)


With the village of Woodville saved from a German hunting demon and the children packed safely off to a foster family, you'd think the Witches of Woodville (don't call them a coven) were due a break, but the Nazis don't hold back for anyone. While the Battle Of Britain rages in the skies over southern England a dogfight ends with two planes crash landing in Larry Dell's field and it falls to the trio to dispel the ghost of a luftwaffe pilot. A successful incantation later and the ghost is banished, but is there another lurking in the dust of Ivy Barn? Meanwhile, the High Witch of the British Empire has been stood down and her replacement comes to Woodville with a plan. A Cone of Power, a ritual to turn back the Axis powers and protect Britain's shores. The only catch is, it needs to be performed in the nude. Not something Faye or Mrs Teach are keen on. Miss Charlotte on the other hand, well she's less squeamish about getting her kit off. To top it all off, Faye's own powers are growing to a point she can no longer keep them under control and the other witches can't hide their feelings on the matter. Maybe Otto Kopp was right, maybe they're scared of her. The only people that really understand her are Bertie, who Faye can't wait to get alone for a bit of canoodling, and one of the new witches shipped in for the ritual, Jennifer. With preparations for the ritual underway, it becomes clear there is a traitor in the group, a nazi spy passing information to the enemy. The Woodville witches need to find out which of their new colleagues it is, or consider the possibility that it could be one of the three. Faye also has a restless ghost to contend with and a cryptic message from her deceased mother. Can Faye help the ghost move on, learn to fly, find the traitor, manage a spot of canoodling and complete the Cone of Power ritual all on her own? Or will she need to work together to keep Woodville and Britain safe? 


My Thoughts 


In short, this is a quirky book in a great series which is only going from strength to strength. Stay has crafted a village I feel I could stroll right in to and grab a swift pint at The Green Man, and he’s populated it with a cast of characters who are unique and brilliant. It is equal parts funny, engaging and emotional (I may or may not have welled up a little at one point). If you like independent female leads, plenty of magic and lashings of whatever you could get with ration coupons, then I highly recommend reading The Ghost of Ivy Barn.


In slightly more words, The Ghost of Ivy Barn essentially contains two stories which don’t converge until the very end of the book. The back and forth between these two plot lines keeps us entertained and wanting to know what happens next without dwelling too long on either. At points I felt there was a disconnect between plot A and B, occasionally thinking that the story would do just as well without one of them, but I reconsidered this thought come the end of the book where all threads are tried up in a pretty bow. It’s not a rip-roaring ride but it carries you gently down the stream of the story until you reach the end.


This book has the highest stakes of the series so far, and with that comes a responsibility of the author to convey that additional jeopardy without changing the tone of the writing, something which Stay has done well here. Despite the whole of the United Kingdom being at risk should they fail, this remains a tight story, even if the witches do travel as far as Dover (gasp). The central question of the book is quite simple. Solo or team? Which one do we work better as? The answer to that is not up to me to decide.


Mark Stay’s characters are probably his biggest strength. Every one is realised and personalised, even those background characters we see for only a page or two. I found I connected more to the characters in this book than the other two, which may be because I listened to the first two on audio but physically read that third. It might also be that Stay has simply got better and better as the series progresses. There are shades of Terry Pratched woven into the characters themselves and I’m sure the great man would have been honoured that his work is included in such a wonderful homage.


Not having been alive in the 1940s, I’m taking something of a liberty when I say that the dialogue is authentic to the period. Sometimes this can come across as dry or forced, but not in this book. It slots together as a piece of the jigsaw which makes The Ghost of Ivy Barn work on every level. I would say that Stay has hit the point of dialogue where every name or tag could be stripped out and you’d still know exactly who was talking.


Overall, this book continues the great work, world and wit present in the first two Witches of Woodville installments. There’s plenty to keep you guessing and turning the page, but it also has a familiarity to it which makes you trust the prose completely. Being a witch, like being a writer and life in general, is a compromise between striding out alone and getting the job done, and relying on the experience of friends. Whichever path Mark Stay chooses to take, I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.


Inkborn Rating - 8/10

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