A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Family Saga
Publisher: Orbit on September 5, 2017
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.View Spoiler »
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.
From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures. « Hide Spoiler
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
Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. View Spoiler »In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand, regardless of her actual abilities. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content.
However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses. It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work.
And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog. « Hide Spoiler
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
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together. View Spoiler »
Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery, so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks, but her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries–and she’s the only creature who can break its spell. « Hide Spoiler
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.