A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier

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Tales of the Blackbone Witches book 1, Harper Voyager, 2018. ISBN: 9781460756331.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Aurealis Awards Best Young Adult novel shortlist 2018. Themes: Witches, Curses, Coming of age. When Elodie is sent off to be a servant she doesn't dream that she would be working for a witch. Desperate to leave a home where she is belittled by her stepfather and used as a drudge, she travels to a distant village where she finds Aleida, a young witch and immediately sees that she is needed not only as a servant but as someone who has Aleida's back. Aleida has been in a massive fight with her mistress Gyssha Blackbone, who has made huge monsters that ravage the countryside and who has cursed her. For Elodie, anything is better than going home.
This is a fantasy tale that will quickly grip the reader's attention. Elodie is an engaging heroine: sensible and pragmatic, she is also compassionate and helpful. As the story progresses, the reader knows that she will do everything she can to help Aleida foil the wicked Gyssha, even though she finds it very difficult. Aleida is a mysterious character and Spurrier cleverly unfolds her story and other surprises along the way.
There is plenty of action for those who like adventure and the descriptions of the ways that witchcraft is used gives an interesting background to the world that Elodie and Aleida inhabit.
I really enjoyed reading this story and look forward to the sequel. Although there was a touch of romance, it was Elodie's growth in confidence and self esteem on escaping her past and the growing friendship between Aleida and Elodie that made the story interesting.
A Curse of Ash and Embers is likely to appeal to fans of stories about witches and warlocks like Tempests and slaughter by Tamora Pierce and How to hang a witch by Adriana Mather.
Pat Pledger