Wildseed Witch, Book 1: Wildseed Witch
By: Marti Dumas
Published: May 10, 2022
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magic School
This is Belles Demoiselles: Finir l’École des Sorcières. Magic is for hooligans. Belles demoiselles use charm. That’s what you’re supposed to learn at a finishing school. Charm and restraint. Not vulgar magic, (Chapter Ten: Deeper and Deeper).
“Black Girl Magic” is a movement which promotes “positivity and empowerment” in Black girls and women. It is also a growing literary genre in children’s and young adult literature. At the same time, the term has been tagged alongside media not only equates #blackgirlmagic, but also promotes it. For example (and in my opinion), African fantasy books (i.e., books by Nnedi Okorafor) can be Black Girl Magic, but Black Girl Magic is NOT African fantasy per se. Now, Wildseed Witch—the first book in the Wildseed Witch series—by Marti Dumas is a #blackgirlmagic book—as stated by the author—but it stands out on its own in comparison to other books of the same subgenre.
The protagonist in this story is 13-year-old Hasani Marie Schexnayder-Jones. She has made plans for her summer vacation, which includes gaining up to 100 subscribers on her YouTube channel and getting her divorced parents to reconcile. While Hasani is able to make progress with her first goal, her second goal seems unattainable especially after she learns her father is dating, and it’s getting serious. In fact, while Hasani is out with her father, her emotions get the better of her and she “feels magic” at the same time a drawbridge gets stuck. After that disastrous visit, a woman arrives at Hasani’s mother’s house with some news: Hasani is a powerful witch, and she’s been invited to attend Les Belles Demoiselles: Finir l’École des Sorcières (or, “Beautiful Ladies: Finishing School for Witches”—courtesy of Google Translate) for 6 weeks. Hasani is excited and is under the impression this “summer camp” will be like Hogwarts (although she is warned that it’s not). When she arrives there, Hasani realizes she stands out too much and to the point where she finds herself ostracized by most of her classmates—including her roommate, Celeste—and by some of the teachers. Hasani is what other witches label a “wildseed,” or a witch born into a family without magic who has no control over their powerful magic, and is at risk of depleting their magic and exposing all covens. In other words, Hasani is the ”worst kind of witch.” Now, Hasani has to develop a new plan: figure out a way to graduate from Les Belles Demoiselles. She will need to learn everything she can because Hasani is at a huge disadvantage. While Hasani knows she won’t get any help from Celeste, both Desirée and LaToya assist Hasani with everything they know. This includes helping Hasani with her controlling her magic to growing her YouTube channel (which has been gaining momentum). Hasani is an adolescent girl who is dealing with adolescent challenges—changes in her life, new friendships, etc.—as she learns to grow into her new identity amongst those that want to see her fail. Les Belles Demoiselles is not Hogwarts, and the witches—both old and young—present a complex magical society.
The plot of this book is a balance of magic academia and middle grade life. Hasani is attending a summer camp—not a school—to learn magic. Hasani, being a young teenaged girl, learns very quickly that what she believes she knows about magic is not the magic she is being taught at Les Belles Demoiselles. And, Hasani underestimates how powerful she is and how her magic “influences” her inner circle: her parents, her classmates, and other witches. In fact, Hasani is warned about what to expect after camp is over—if or when she graduates—amongst the numerous covens (in Louisiana). There are 3 subplots in this novel which are essential to the plot and to the character development. The first subplot delves into Hasani and her parents. Hasani’s parents are divorced, and her father is dating Sandy, an influencer on Instagram. Hasani believes her parents can work things out because they need each other, but she hasn’t learned her desires are not identical to her parents’. The second subplot explores Hasani’s YouTube channel—“MakeupontheCheapCheap”—and how kids her age navigate social media. Hasani learns magic at the same time she’s growing her YouTube channel. She learns many witches are tech savvy and are social media influencers, too. Maybe some of them can offer her some advice. The last subplot examines Hasani’s relationship amongst her new peers. Hasani’s best friend, Luz, is not a witch, and her biggest fan—_AnnieOaky_—only interacts with Hasani on YouTube, so Hasani feels very lonely during her time at Les Belles Demoiselles. A major reason for this is because Hasani is a wildseed and just about everyone at school, except for a handful of individuals—witches and non-witches—are willing to help Hasani succeed at the camp. As heartbreaking as it is for Hasani, she’s going to need to learn how and where to find other witches who are willing to help her become a “good” witch. All of these separate subplots connect to Hasani’s time at Les Belles Demoiselles with what she’ll have to live with and to deal with after summer camp is over. These are the realities within the fiction.
The narrative is presented in 1st person from the point-of-view of Hasani. Hasani experiences everything in real-time, and the audience learns everything from her through her stream-of-consciousness. This is essential to the narrative because Hasani is a 13-year-old girl; and, while the target audience is middle grade (girls), some adults will need to remember what it was like to be that age and all of the experiences that came with it. Not to mention, Hasani’s emotions and the mistakes she makes—and has to correct—makes her both a reliable and a believable narrator. This narrative can be followed easily both by the target audience and by older readers.
The style Marti Dumas uses for Wildseed Witch demonstrates an influence of Black Girl Magic with the culture of Louisiana. As someone who lived in Louisiana for several years (for grad school in Lafayette), I was able to comprehend all of the aspects of the Bayou State: the summer heat, the Fleur-de-lis, the stress placed on family lineages, and the use of Creole and French over English. The author’s style of magic makes this book standout from similar ones. There is a lot of emphasis placed on plants, especially flowers and pollinators, which demonstrate the sort of witches the audience is reading about. Even the word choice used in this story clues readers into what type of magic school they are reading about. The usage of Creole and French throughout the narrative reminds the audience of the setting and the lifestyle there. And, words such as “kismets” and “wildseeds” are used constantly by all of the characters (think “muggle” from Harry Potter). Whenever Hasani says those words, or they are said to her, they are reminders of how other witches view Hasani, which in turn, influences how Hasani views herself. The mood in this story is adjustment. Hasani is adjusting to adolescence and her parents’ divorce. On top of that, she needs to learn how to interact with a new group of peers and to learn about their culture and their upbringing. This is part girl clichés and part adjusting to a new way of life—Hasani’s status as on outsider, or wildseed, is used against her constantly. The tone in this story is acceptance. Hasani learns she is a witch, but she is not the sort of witch society accepts openly, so Hasani has to figure out where within the community she fits in so she can continue to grow into her new identity as a witch instead of a wildseed. In addition, as much as it pains her, Hasani must accept there is a chance her parents will not be getting back together.
The appeal for Wildseed Witch have been positive. Yes, the amount of readers is low, but out of those readers, most of them enjoyed the book enough to give it high ratings on Goodreads and on Amazon. This book deserves to be part of the Black Girl Magic canon and subgenre. Fans and readers of B.B. Alston, J. Elle, Dhonielle Clayton, Tracy Deonn, and Rachel Griffin should consider reading Marti Dumas’ book. As of the timing of this review, it is hinted that this book is the first of a series. Honestly, I’m curious to learn more about this society of witches—and their covens—beyond Les Belles Demoiselles. Hopefully, the second books gets written and published in the near future.
Wildseed Witch is a different, yet cute take on Black Girl Magic. This middle grade novel presents their characters both as witches and as tech savvy individuals. Marti Dumas’ urban fantasy and Louisiana love is a must-read for any readers who wants to read about a “magic academia setting” beyond Hogwarts and Camp Half-Blood.
My Rating: Enjoy It (4.5 out of 5).