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But the Kitchen won't make it easy. It is pitch black, infinite, and impossible to navigate, a living maze. Hiding in dark corners are beastly, starving things. Worse yet are the Witches themselves, who have sent a procession of horrific, deadly monsters on her trail. With some courage and wisdom, the Toad just might find herself yet-and with that knowledge, the power to defeat the mighty Witches.
Filled with forty stunning pencil illustrations from the author, the Witches' Kitchen is a rich, well-imagined fantasy setting unlike any other.
A Toad in a Kitchen escapes two Witch Sisters and sets off on a journey of discovery, aided by a mixed bag of friends (who befriend her for no apparent reason, despite the fact that this brings them danger and misfortune; some of them also speak in inexplicable and inconsistent dialects). The prose in Williams's mostly gorgeously self-illustrated novel is a vehicle propelling readers from one picture to another, but none of the characters ever comes alive, and the dialogue is juvenile at best and heavy on the exposition. The Kitchen itself is actually spectacular: a dark world peopled by odd and mostly malevolent creatures (carnivorous fairies; an ill-tempered potbellied stove) where light never shines and furniture moves, but it's like a set full of amateurs. Toad's eventually recovered memories (surprise: She's a beautiful girl under a spell of sorts) do hint at a wider world, but this is too little, too late. Despite some discrepancies between descriptions and images, especially for the human-like characters, the illustrator's talent is indisputable; still, the art can't save this. (Final art not seen.) (Fantasy. 10-14)
Give her to me.” The voice sliced through the silence like a carving knife, and in the total darkness Sarafina imagined her sister’s thin, outstretched hands, grasping, expecting to be obeyed.
Though they were standing face-to-face, nearly nose-to-nose, Sarafina could only just perceive Emilina’s gaunt silhouette as a glow slowly began to emerge from the depths of an ancient cauldron squatting a few feet away.
A book lay spread open on the table nearest Emilina. She would frequently glance at it as if she were reading, but the anemic light did not brighten its pages at all. In fact, the light bent around the book as if afraid of what was written there. Here in the Witches’ Kitchen, the light wasn’t welcome. The foul, creeping things that dwelled here did not enjoy the light. The darkness kept their secrets.
Sarafina obeyed her sister, extracting a small, bloated body from a red velvet sack with her thick, rough fingers. A huge, hulking woman, possessing incredible strength, Sarafina had pale, pink-mottled skin that hosted patches of dark brown freckles across her cheeks and nose.
“Still unconscious? Good. But she’ll wake soon enough, yes, she will,” Emilina murmured. “Step lively, pot.” Tall and as angular as a grave digger’s spade, she considered herself an expert in the crafting of bitter sorrows. Her hair was long, black, and as rigid as piano wire.
The cauldron’s four grotesque legs began to move on cloven hooves. Like a frightened, wounded horse, clipping and clopping in an uneven rhythm, the cauldron lurched to the Sisters’ side and lowered itself, shivering, into a crouch without spilling any of its contents.
Sarafina paused, glancing at the small body held tightly in her meaty fist as she handed it to her sister. Reaching up, she fidgeted with the pearl necklace stretched tightly around her thick neck.
Emilina glanced up, surprised at the sound of soft clicking in the dead silence. By the growing cauldron light, she saw the small skeleton of a bird perched atop Sarafina’s rounded left shoulder. In one eye socket it had a single, raven black eye. The other was empty.
It stared back at Emilina, paused, and clicked its beak again.
“Sister,” Emilina said drily, “did we not agree to destroy all of the disobedient cribs? Are we now wearing them as jewelry?”
The lines of Sarafina’s perpetual scowl now deepened as her eyes sparked a fleeting expression of anger. “It’s not jewelry,” she said with the slightest hint of defiance. “I’m going to experiment on it. I have to see what went wrong with this batch. After that, the crines can have it for all I care.”
“Ahh,” Emilina drew the word out, mocking her sister. “Right. Well, have your fun then.” She paused, and then added, “It’s of no consequence to me.”
Most of the time, most things are exactly as they appear. The thing Emilina was so closely examining appeared to be a toad, and it was starting to wake up.
The first thing the Toad saw when she opened her eyes was a cadaverous pool of green, bubbling slime. Tendrils of putrid steam uncoiled toward her. She stared at it in confusion.
She was dangling upside down over a huge seething cauldron, held aloft as if she were a wishbone by two very odd-looking women, each pinching a hind foot. They whispered to each other and though the Toad could hear them quite plainly, she couldn’t understand the language they spoke. She knew witches when she saw them.
This was not a place she wanted to be.
She wriggled, but she couldn’t budge her legs an inch. Her bizarre captors were oblivious to her. Now quiet, the women stared at each other, slowly leaning closer and closer together, until it looked like their faces were blurring or… melting toward each other.
The Toad only tore her eyes away from the horrific sight when movement appeared nearby. A terrible walking bird skeleton crept up toward the rotund woman’s neck. The little creature turned and looked at the Toad with its one shiny black eye. Then it did something quite unexpected.
The crib pecked. Hard.
Sarafina squealed as the needle-sharp beak of the crib punctured the soft flesh of her neck. Her face snapped back away from Emilina’s as the skeletal bird struck again and again. As Sarafina reeled, frantically swatting at the creature, a tiny rivulet of blood began to trickle down the front of her dress. At last, her hand found the crib and batted it off her shoulder into the darkness as the string of pearls snapped with a pop.
Instinctively, she began snatching at the orbs of her necklace that were cascading down to the floor. She managed to capture a single large pearl; and as she raised it in her doughy fist triumphantly, her left foot unfortunately found another one. She pitched forward, her head smashing viciously into the bridge of Emilina’s nose with a resounding crack.
Emilina landed pinned under her sister’s weight, unable to draw even a shallow breath. The cauldron spun for a moment trying to catch its balance before it tipped up on its edge, legs kicking spastically in the air. Its contents rapidly splashed across the stone floor. Its light extinguished.
Sarafina began to roll her ponderous weight off the uncomfortable lump beneath her. Finally able to inhale, Emilina sat bolt upright and issued a sound like a reverse scream. The air whistled into the vacuum of her lungs and as the darkness closed in around her and became complete, she shrieked…
“Where in the bloody blazes is the Toad?!”
Excerpted from The Witches' Kitchen by Williams, Allen Copyright © 2010 by Williams, Allen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted October 24, 2010
The Witches' Kitchen by Allen Williams is a brilliantly written and gorgeously illustrated young adult novel that deserves a very large audience. Williams has been a prolific and superb artist for years, and now he's unlocked his tremendous talent for writing. His paintings always told a story and now, thankfully for us, he's written one of them down. The forty original pencil illustrations add to a fantastical journey in the infinitely large and dangerous magical kitchen owned by two malevolent witches. The main character, Toad, is about to be killed by the witches who are planning to steal Toad's magical powers when she manages to escape their clutches-but ends up in a very fascinating place-the Kitchen.
Poor little Toad, who is not really a Toad, and can't remember who she really is, meets all sorts of enthralling characters as she tries to escape the kitchen and recover her memories. She is accompanied on her journey by one of my favorite characters ever, NatterJack, an iron-handed imp who doesn't want to become an evil demon like his despicable father and much prefers exploring his artistic side; a sword-wielding carnivorous fairy who would be utterly terrifying if she weren't three inches tall; and a couple of other unique characters, Sootfoot and Pug, who provide lots of laughs.
Reading this novel aloud would be so much fun, as the inventiveness, great dialogue, and craziness of the pitch-black, constantly changing and living kitchen brings one amazing scene after another.
As I read the book, my imagination soared and I kept seeing the scenes unfolding like a great Hollywood movie, which this book certainly could become someday. The book is a little complicated and scary for younger kids, and they might not follow the storyline all the time, but overall young adults and older readers will be thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. The Witches' Kitchen is Neil Gaiman's Coraline mixed with The Wizard of Oz, and a generous helping of Terry Gilliam's movie Time Bandits with the stunning visuals of Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal.
Author of The Golden Cord
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Posted January 5, 2012
Posted April 24, 2011
Toad wakes up to a nasty sight - two witches dangling her over a cauldron with her having no idea how she got there or even who she is. By a stroke of luck, she manages to escape their grasp, but not their home. With an ever-changing kitchen that appears to never end, Toad will enlist the help of an Impish and a carnivorous fairy. Things are not as they seem, however, even for Toad. With an unusual ability to pick up and start speaking any language, there appears to be a magical, special nature about her. In addition, the witches keep sending strange skeleton monsters to catch her. Why do the witches want her back so badly? Who is Toad and why is she so special? Will she ever escape the kitchen and the witches' grasp? The characters in this book are entertaining, memorable, and well-developed. The plot moves quickly and holds the reader's interest throughout. Those who like adventure, fantasy, magic, and mystery will enjoy reading THE WITCHES' KITCHEN.
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Posted May 23, 2012
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Posted March 27, 2011
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