Title: Once a Witch
Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Length: 292 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tamsin Greene comes from a family of witches. On the night of her birth, her grandmother predicted that she would be a powerful “beacon.” She disappoints everyone, however, by being the only Greene who displays no magical Talent at all. Constantly overshadowed by her older sister Rowena, Tamsin attends school in New York City and takes refuge in her very un-magical life there…until she meets a young NYU professor who mistakes her for Rowena. She agrees to help him in hopes of proving her worth, but in doing so, she reignites a centuries-old conflict that threatens both the future and the past of her entire family.
I passed up this book several times in the library because honestly, I’ve been burned by YA witch books, and the blurb didn’t appeal to me. Fortunately, a friend recommended it to me, and I finally caved and checked it out.
Turns out, it was much better than the blurb let on.
Finally, the first-person YA heroine I’ve been waiting for all year! Tamsin is delightful. She has strains of cliché characters—the hipster girl who just wears vintage clothing, for instance—but she feels authentic and (for once) even likable. I’d actually like to be friends with Tamsin.
The other characters also felt refreshingly real—from Rowena, the self-interested, catty but sometimes-caring older sister; to Agatha, the Anglophile roommate (I had one in college!); to Gabriel, the flirtatious, mischievous childhood-friend-turned-love-interest who is not, mercifully, the most beautiful man ever.
Carolyn MacCullough’s writing was succinct and to-the-point without losing an air of light lyricism, which helped the story flow beautifully—no fluff here!—but also lent it an appropriate sense of magic. Authors can go way too heavy on the neopagan/Wicca under- (or over-) tones in witch books, such as in The Mists of Avalon; MacCullough instead created an atmospheric rural world in which the “old ways” are kept alive. She provides enough details to awaken the reader’s imagination, but not enough to drown them.
She had me hooked from the first page:
I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to listen. All night my mother struggled, and when she finally heaved me into this world, my grandmother hovered over me, twisting her fingers into arcane shapes, murmuring in a language only she knew.
What a delightful and, well, magical way to begin your novel!
In short, Once a Witch is a quick and delightful read chock-full of magic and believable, sympathetic characters and with It’s the best witchcraft-related book I’ve read in a long time, and I definitely recommend it.
(Extra points go to its gorgeous cover.)
Also on Goodreads.