While reading I was delightfully reminded of a handful of other books and movies, although I should have written them down as I thought of them, because now the only ones that come to mind are the Wizard of Oz novels, and even--somewhat inexplicably--the movie The Postman.
This book is a little bit uneven. It has a strong start, but when Annie reaches the castle gates in Magnifica the story seems to lose its grip on reality. I suppose that is forgivable, as Annie herself loses her grip on consciousness. Once outside the castle walls again, the story seems to get back on track. However, when Annie sneaks into the enemy camp and struggles with The Apothecary, the style of writing seems to change, and the story begins to read like a movie, with no thought or feeling evident--just action.
I thought Annie's two pet cats must actually be Kinderstalk, but I was wrong about that, although they were sent by the Kinderstalk to protect her. What threw me off was the section early on when one of her cats disappeared, and "in her place stood a Kinderstalk." Also, there were a couple of plot holes that annoyed me. First, once it was revealed that Uncle Jock and Aunt Prim were no relation to Annie and her family, I could not understand the connection between the two families. The tenuous relationship between Aunt Prim and Annie's mother ("Was she your friend?" "I guess so") doesn't seem to be significant enough for the expense of keeping Annie and Page safe in their home, and Prim doesn't seem to have enough control over Jock to bend him to her will. Second, unless I misunderstood, Phoebe Tamburlaine was taken by the Kinderstalk from her home in Dour County, where Uncle Jock and Aunt Prim lived. When Phoebe was raised as Page, first by Shar and Helen and then by Jock and Prim, why did no one recognize Page as Phoebe? Prim knew about Phoebe's disappearance from "a farm close to town," and she was described as "all white and gold" which sounds just like Page's appearance. I suppose drinking the witch's potion changed her enough that she no longer looked like Phoebe, but from their descriptions this is not clear.
I also had trouble understanding Bea and Serena's position. For a little while I even suspected them of not being as they appeared, but if this is true, it never came up. They remained good and helpful and kind. I understand the presence of the little clockwork man made by Serena, as its heart ended up replacing the king's; but I don't understand why, as she held the little man, Annie felt fear and Serena looked at her oddly. This scene was a big part of the reason I didn't trust Serena and Bea, and it was never explained to my satisfaction.
The story was left wide open for a sequel, if only because Annie was unable to find Gregor, and because she did not fulfill the prophecy and "devour the witch." These are loose ends which I am sure will be tied up in future novels.