TitleThe Apprentice Witnesser

Author and illustrator: Bren MacDibble

PublisherAllen and Unwin

Publication date: April 2024

Themes: Power of human connection, family (whether it be biological or not), love, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, survival, the impossible decisions and consequences borne from a deep love, forgiveness and healing.

A comprehensive teaching resource can be downloaded from the Allen and Unwin website here

Set in 2072, The Apprentice Witnesser by Bren MacDibble and published by Allen and Unwin for readers 10+ is a gripping, inventive climate fiction story where the older characters remember “the before times”, a world filled with waste, plastic, consumerism, pollution and families living together. Since “the great collapse” cities have been swallowed up by rising sea levels and diseases that predominantly affect the male population sweep the land, causing a radical change to how people live. This is a time where there is limited electricity, no technology, men and older boys leave their families and live in the mountains in an attempt to stay healthy, while women and girls rely on community and trading their goods and services for food and survival. Women are safe, supported and they look out for each other, they are fiercely protective, free and liberated. This is ultimately a hopeful story and explores themes relating to the power of human connection, family (whether it be biological or not), love, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, survival, the impossible decisions and consequences borne from a deep love, forgiveness and healing. This is a story which entices readers to question how they would respond to the experiences and dilemmas the characters face as sometimes they have to unlearn all that they have known, as truths are revealed, love is lost and found and shattered hearts are healed.

Bastienne (Basti) Scull is a young orphan girl who becomes an apprentice to Lodyma Darsey, a Witnesser of Miracles. Women come from far and wide to the market to hear Lodyma’s theatrical performances full of drama that captivate and entertain. She is a storyteller with a very distinctive look, she has one seemingly striking purple eye and one brown one and a white streak of hair. Together with Basti, they travel and are often called to witness miracles. Basti is learning this craft. She supports Lodyma’s performances with the images she captures through her photography to complement the performances and she also sells peanuts to their audiences. This skill set affords them money and food.

Lodyma and Bastienne both live with grief and in their own unique and different ways navigate this. Lodyma’s husband and son both passed away because of the sickness in the community. She wanted to protect her only surviving teenage son, Osmin, spare him the same fate, so she sends him away to live in the mountains. Not a day goes by that Lodyma does not think of her son and wonders if he is well, alive and safe. She asks any men that come down from the mountain if they have seen her Osmin. No one can provide any information to her. The not knowing is crippling, yet Lodyma clings to hope. Basti’s Mum also lost her life to this sickness.  

Two young boys are sent from Ravenshoe, a mysterious monastery, to meet with Lodyma and request that she travels back to Ravenshoe to witness a miracle.

What Lodyma and Basti discover becomes life altering and forces them to question long held beliefs, answer and defend their past, grieve mistakes, know better and do better. Their strength and love is tested, their bond strengthened as they learn and grow and once again their lives are changed forever.

This timely story set in a future world that is community focussed is masterfully crafted, it is a story where hope prevails and resilience shines through in the characters. It deftly highlights how connection is vital, transformative and beautiful. The twists and turns will keep readers turning the pages and they may, like me, read pages with bated breath as the tension and suspense are palpable.

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