Mini Reviews: The Witchy Edition

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Genre: Historical Fantasy, Family Saga

Publisher: Orbit on September 5, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

An ancient and dangerous power is being handed down from mother to daughter through some of the most consequential historic events of the last two centuries.

A SECRET HISTORY OF WITCHES is a family saga following five generations of Orchiére witches, moving from their Romani roots to their impact on Britain’s war effort in WWII. Louisa Morgan’s lyrical writing evoked a sense of magic and mystery throughout the tale, but the repetitive structure of the narrative ultimately weighed it down.

Like many sweeping historical epics, each section of A SECRET HISTORY OF WITCHES follows a separate member of the Orchiére family. While each one lives in different circumstances, their basic stories are as follows: they learn about their magic, struggle to accept the power, a man comes along, she uses said power on him in some way, and she becomes pregnant with a daughter. This exact scenario is the story for four out of the five Orchiére women, which was disappointing because their similarities made it difficult for many of the characters to stand out.

However, there were two standouts for me: the final two POV characters, Morwen Orchiére and her daughter, Veronica. Their stories were my favourites because they each broke the mold set forth in the previous stories. Veronica’s story was particularly satisfying because she uses her power to help the war effort rather than personal or romantic gain. Her story delivered on the cool, witchy empowerment that I was hoping for from the rest of the novel.

Thematically, A SECRET HISTORY OF WITCHES is consistent: people mistrust, fear, and some even hate the Orchiére women because of their power. This is especially true for men, who resent the agency that the Orchiére’s exercise in a rigidly patriarchal society that should ensure men are the most powerful actors. Don’t get me wrong, this theme resonates with me and I think it’s timely, but the cyclical storytelling made it feel like a diatribe by the third or fourth time an Orchiére mother passed the lesson along to her daughter.

I think that historical fiction lovers would enjoy this book more than your typical fantasy reader, since its emphasis is on the changing circumstances for women throughout the 19th and 20th centuries rather than their magic.

Slouch Witch by Helen Harper (The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic #1)

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Createspace on June 8, 2017

Source: Purchased

Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine.

Ivy Wilde is the world’s laziest witch…or at least, that’s what she wants everyone to think. Working as a cab driver in Oxford, she dodges customers with longer rides despite their hefty fares and spends most of her life chilling on the sofa watching her favourite soap opera, Enchanted. But all good things must come to an end, and when Ivy ends up magically shackled to a high-achieving (and disturbingly tight-laced) member of the Order, she’s roped into a high stakes investigation. It looks like her days of coasting by are done for.

SLOUCH WITCH is exactly what it seems: a fun and funny story about a heroine who’s bordering on hot-mess territory. The magic system is pretty solid and consistent, based predominantly on rune-casting, herblore, and traditional spellwork. In this universe, magic is out in the open, with people hating the Order mostly for its bureaucratic failings as opposed to prejudice against magic. Understandable, honestly. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of familiars, especially Ivy’s cat Brutus, who she’s bespelled to speak English. He’s rude and hilarious, exactly how you’d imagine a cat would be if it could talk.

Between Ivy’s wisecracks, Winter’s dry humour, and Brutus’ expletive-filled demands, I was cracking up practically the whole time. SLOUCH WITCH isn’t particularly original, but it is absolutely the purest fun I’ve had while reading in ages. If you’re looking for a sassy and silly pick-me-up read, SLOUCH WITCH fits the bill perfectly.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy #1)

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Publisher: Penguin on February 8, 2011

Source: Purchased

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Dr. Diana Bishop is a respected historian, tenured professor, and the last in a line of witches that can trace their lineage back to Salem. Frightened by the deadly consequences of her parents’ power, Diana has rejected her magic and shuns contact with other witches. But Diana’s about to discover that destiny can rarely be denied…

When Matthew Clairmont sees Diana studying an alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the ancient vampire realizes that she’s no ordinary witch. Drawn to Diana’s leashed power – and the magical artefact she’s unwittingly discovered – Matthew gives into his predatory instincts and begins stalking her. Despite his antipathy for witches, Matthew finds Diana fascinating. Why does she deny her powers, and how did she stumble onto the world’s most sought-after magical text? And with this creepy behaviour, their epic romance is born!

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES had the potential to be a great read for me: y’all know that libraries and witches are two of my favourite bookish topics, and I’m always here for a good fantasy romance. Unfortunately, the romance was not good and the plot was even worse. Matthew’s vampiric nature aside, he’s a chauvinist and a liar. Meanwhile, we’re told that Diana is strong and independent but she folds like a stack of cards whenever he’s around. The fact that they fall in love after a week of monosyllabic conversations is just icing on the cake.

The plot is similarly bizarre, since A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES can’t decide whether it’s a romance, a mystery, or a family saga. The genre blending doesn’t work very well mostly because it feels unintentional and disorganized. Not to mention the ridiculousness of it all. Prophecies, blood feuds, twins absorbed in the womb…it was just too much.

Have you read any of these books? What are your favourite witchy stories? Let me know in the comments!

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