Max Candee is a rather obvious pseudonym used by an author who also uses 'Austin Briggs' for his much more adult titles (that latter is also the name of a comic book illustrator who is no longer with us). This is the first work of his that I've read. This advance review copy, which I was happy to have the chance to enjoy, is aimed at middle-grade, and it was very well done. There were some minor issues with it, but nothing to spoil it, and nothing that would bother the intended age range. Note though that this is somewhat darker and deals with more adult issues than your usual middle grade novel.
I don't usually talk about book covers because they're nothing to do with the author, typically, and all about Big publishing™ but in this case I have to comment that no, the girl witch isn't pregnant, although the cover seems to suggest she is! It's just that she's holding something against her stomach. The illustrations inside the story were not bad - line drawings with one portion colored. Anna is a red haired girl, of course, but the drawings show her hair as straight, whereas the text says it's curly, so another mismatch there, but while I am not sure they really contributed anything, the drawings were not bad at all.
It's very much the trope 'orphan coming of age to find they're really special' kind of a story, but there are some differences. For one, it was a really refreshing change to find this set somewhere other than the USA. Of course, it took a foreign author (at least I assume so. I believe "Max Candee" is Swiss, but I am not sure of it) to realize that there are people and nations and lives outside of the USA, an important fact which far too few USA authors seem to be able to grasp, I'm sorry to say.
This is, be warned, a series, and while there is thankfully no cliff-hanger at the end of volume one, there is a teaser for the next volume in the series, titled, 'Wandering Witch'. Anna, who was evidently found in Russia being raised by bears, and delivered to Geneva by her "uncle" Misha, turns thirteen and comes into an inheritance, which in this case is actually money, but not just money. She is also the recipient of a stone fist, a brief letter from her mother, and a mysteriously animated drawing. It turns out, as she slowly discovers, that Anna is a witch and is being stalked not by your usual villain, which was another delightful twist in this delightfully twisted story.
Anna proves to be strong, determined, and in the end, unstoppable. Of course, those magical powers help, but this story doesn't take itself too seriously - as her mode of witchy transportation proves beyond a doubt, and although she uses her powers for good, and against largely non-magical enemies, there is a real and serious cost to Anna for using them - a cost she has to evaluate and judge wisely each time she employs her magic. This was a refreshing change from being able to shake a stick, chant two Latin words, and cast major magic whilst suffering no cost whatsoever.
Note that Misha is a diminutive of Mikhail, which is a variant of Michael, which is a Hebrew naming meaning "Who is like God". I don't know if this author puts any meaning into his character names like I do, but it's interesting to note that Anna is derived ultimately also from the Hebrew Hannah, who was a New Testament woman who recognized the divinity of Jesus. I don't put any more stock into those myths than I do into any other myth, but it makes me wonder if the author chose these names for a reason, or if they just were names he lit upon simply because he liked them. To me, as a writer, names always mean something, and while minor character names are not that important (unless you have some secret purpose!), I like to imbue my main characters with names that mean something beyond just being a character name! I promise you I will never write a series, but if I were going to, I would definitely put a lot of thought into what the names of the main characters mean! I can't say if this author did the same thing here.
So, that aside, aside, I liked this novel very much. It was about friendship and loyalty, unexpected allies, resilience and resourcefulness, and doing the right thing. It was nice to see the magical protagonist going up against bad people rather than your usual mustache-twirling evil magician. I think this was a fun story appropriate to the age range, and without any of the fluff and flounce too many middle grade stories sprout. I recommend it as a worthy read.