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Sunday, February 5, 2012

'Born Wicked' The Cahill Witch Chronicles #1 by Jessica Spotswood

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:


Our mother was a witch too, but she hid it better.
I miss her.

To me, the magic feels like a curse. According to the Brothers, it's devil-sent. Women who can do magic-they're either mad or wicked. So I will do everything in my power to protect myself and my sisters. Even if it means giving up my life - and my true love.

Because if the Brothers discover our secret, we're destined for the asylum, or prison . . . or death.

The Cahill sisters are witches. Cate, Tess and Maura are all that’s left of their mother’s witchy legacy – and it’s up to eldest, Cate, to keep their magic a secret, lest the Brotherhood discover their ‘talents’. Young girls in the village disappear if the Brotherhood even suspects they have an inkling of magic – they get bundled off and are never seen or heard from again. Cate cannot think of a worse fate for her beloved sisters – but young Tess and middle-child Maura are both tempting fate with how much magic they use, and how powerful they are becoming.

Worse than trying to keep her sister’s magic in line, Cate’s father has now got it into his head (courtesy of their busy-body neighbour, Mrs. Corbett) that the girl’s need a governess and Cate must start looking for a suitable union with a nice young man.

Miss Elena comes to take care of the girls when their father takes yet another long trip to New England. But Elena’s arrival seems to coincidentally trigger a series of events . . . the son of the bookshop owner, Finn Belastra, is the new gardener, and Cate finds herself mesmerized by his kind eyes and thoughtful conversations. At the same time, her childhood friend and next-door-neighbour, Paul McLeod, returns to town after a long absence at University . . . and he seems to have every intention of asking for Cate’s hand in marriage. But even more perplexing than all this is Cate’s discovery of her mother’s diary, which makes mention of a woman named Zara who was taken by the brotherhood many years ago. . .

There’s magic in the air and it’s all converging around the Cahill sisters.

‘Born Wicked’ is the first book in debut author Jessica Spotswood’s paranormal YA series ‘The Cahill Witch Chronicles’.

Spotswood’s debut is ‘Little Women’ meets ‘Practical Magic’ with a dash of ‘The Crucible’. The novel is set in early 20th century New England, in an alternate history where the Brotherhood rule and magic is forbidden and snuffed out. Cate is our narrator in this first novel, and she feels the burden of being eldest sister and substitute mother to her two sisters.

Cate misses her mother terribly, but is determined to uphold the promise she made on her deathbed – to protect her sister’s and mind their magic. But Tess and Maura are more powerful than Cate ever was at their age, and she is feeling the strain of reining them in . . . particularly when they insist on using their magic in broad daylight, without a care to the Brotherhood sniffing around. But Cate also feels the burden of being the eldest Cahill, and expected to marry. Matters are not helped when their nosy next-door neighbour takes it upon herself to help in the girl’s mothering, and suggest a thing or two about Cate’s impending womanhood;

'You're of an age to be thinking about your future now, yours and Miss Maura's. Your intention ceremony is coming up soon. It won't be long before you'll have to make your choice: marry and raise a family, Lord willing, or join the Sisterhood.'
I fiddle with the gold tassels on the lamp shade, a flush rising on my cheeks. 'I'm well aware of my choices.' As if I could forget. It feels like I spend half my days batting the fear away, refusing to let the rising panic consume me.
'Well, you may not be aware that you girls are getting a reputation. As—eccentrics. Bluestockings. Miss Maura more so than you—she's always got her nose in a book, doesn't she? Always popping in and out of that bookshop. You two don't go visiting or receive callers. It's understandable, without any mother to guide you—' Mrs. Corbett looks sadly at Father. 'But regrettable. I thought it my neighborly duty to tell your father what I've been hearing.'

On the eve of their new governess’s arrival, two boys enter Cate’s life. Son of the local bookshop owner, Finn, and Cate’s childhood friend (and secret crush) Paul McLeod. With the Brotherhood closing in and her mother’s mysterious witchy friend, Zara, in the back of her mind, Cate’s life spirals wonderfully and dangerously out of her control. . .

Spotswood has written a wholly original and tantalizing new paranormal YA series. I loved the historic setting of ‘Born Wicked’ – it puts an entirely new spin on the ‘witchy’ concepts by setting the book in the early 20th century, in a conservative New England town. The novel has hints of the Salem Witch trials, but also reads a bit like a Louisa May Alcott novel for the wonderful language and conflicting genteel sensibilities. There’s an inherent dichotomy in the Cahill characters, when they are indeed powerful witches who can use magic to warp seasons and command minds – but they are being brought up to be lovely young misses, minding their manners and hunting for a husband.

There’s a mystery woven throughout this first novel (which will have ramifications on further instalments) regarding the diary of the girl’s dead mother, and mention of a powerful and exiled witch called Zara. But as Cate tries to unravel this mystery (while also avoiding detection by the Brotherhood) her heart becomes divided between gardener Finn, and childhood crush, Paul. I will say that in this novel I wished there was more focus on the magic, and less on the romance (crazy, I know!) only because Cate is a rather conservative, straight-and-narrow character to begin with, and reading her somewhat tepid romance with both boys was nothing compared to the grand magic plot.

My favourite character is, without a doubt, middle-sister Maura. If Spotswood is a modern-day, genre-bending Louisa May Alcott, then Maura is her Jo March. She’s bookish and combative, not terribly interested in boys and finery but consumed by her magic. I loved Maura, I think she’s going to be a real fire-cracker and I really, really hope we get to read a book from her perspective (and the boy who will capture her heart?). Unfortunately, by contrast, Cate is the ‘Meg March’ of the Cahill sisters – and even though she became vastly more interesting towards the end, I couldn’t quite shake the ‘boring older sister’ label for her in comparison to vivacious and scandalous Maura and Tess (Amy March?).

I really enjoyed ‘Born Wicked’. The ending is a big surprise, and opens Spotswood’s world up for a long and twisting series . . . I do hope we get alternative POV books, and we don’t just stick with Cate, but either way I’ll happily go along for the ride and revisit the Cahill Sisters of New England.

4.5/5

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