After learning sorcery to become a healer, a good-hearted woman is turned into a witch by evil spirits and fights their power until her encounter with Hansel and Gretel years later.
A midwife-cum-sorceress known simply as the Ugly One narrates this riveting tale of how, tricked by the devil's minions, she lost her gifts for healing and was forced to become a witch. Escaping from the stake, where she is about to be burned, she ekes out a solitary existence in an enchanted forest--until she takes in two wandering children named Hansel and Gretel. As she did in The Prince of the Pond , Napoli gives a classic fairy tale an entirely new twist, at the same time incorporating absorbing details about medieval religious beliefs. The witch's ``true'' history as a devoted mother and pious servant of God renders her a compelling and entirely sympathetic figure, a heroine courageously fighting the evil spirits that have invaded her once-pure life. The Hansel and Gretel motif, carefully woven into the story, emerges as a surprise for the reader, albeit a surprise that has been fully prepared. The author's extraordinary craftsmanship and originality never flag, and even the archetypically fiery ending for the witch acquires a new dimension. A YA novel of genuine magic and suspense, this will captivate adults as well. Ages 12-up. (June)