Paperback, 466 pages.
Release date: February 7th 2013.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
A gorgeous, witchy, romantic fantasy by a debut author! Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and the Beautiful Creatures series!
Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship--or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother's diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe--not even from each other.
Filled with magic and secrets, mysterious characters and captivating prose, Born Wicked is the first in a planned trilogy centered around the Cahill sisters and their extraordinary powers.
Born Wicked is a retelling of the Salem Witch Trials and this is immediately established. It’s set in a society where witches are real – and hunted. Devastated by the passing of their mother and struggling to connect with their distant, busy father, the Cahill sisters have been left to fend for themselves. In a world where admitting you’re a witch is akin to signing your own death sentence, they must fight to keep their secret and keep each other safe. But with a new governess making life at home more complicated and the creepy, misogynistic Brotherhood closing in, time is running out.
At the outset, Born Wicked appears a bit of a slow burner. It emphasises the importance of high society to the people of nineteenth century New England. It’s positively stifling, with its sweeter-than-sweet figures of authority and delightfully vapid musings on the trappings of a life lived to the full (of your bank account). It’s what would have happened to Downton Abbey if an American had got their hands on it first, and it overwhelms any sense of action or excitement.
However, I can’t deny that the sense of era and place is vital to the story. It’s full of detail and although it can be a little suffocating at times, it is the foundation upon which the rest of the story is built. There’s something so innately luxurious about the way Spotswood writes; she lingers on description and fills each phrase with chilling warmth. You just have to keep on reading.
This is no ordinary young adult novel. It is the most unexpected blend of historical fiction and paranormal romance you could hope to find – but it works. It’s grand and ambitious, with multiple threads and more layers than you could count. The plot rolls forward like a sweeping staircase, perhaps not so much twisting but curving right into the arms of its finale.
Leading the charge is the eldest Cahill sister, Cate. She’s the only one left holding her family together and the responsibility of knowing this weighs heavily on her. She has to keep her sisters in line but feels outcast by the dirty looks and whispered conversations of the neighbours. Unfortunately, I can’t say I actually liked her. She’s defined by her own self-pity. She’s too perfect – because how could you be the heroine of a young adult novel without being endlessly beautiful and hopelessly devoted and truly caring all at the same time? Even her flaws aren’t real flaws. She’s not strong and she doesn’t admit her weaknesses, either. I needed more than false vulnerability from Cate to really feel for her as a main character, especially when she continues to claim that she’d do anything for her sisters but when the worst comes to the worst, when her world’s about to collapse, she actually doesn’t.
As for the other sisters, Tess is my favourite by a mile. Maura, the middle sister and a fiery red-head, is too much of a stereotype to enjoy. Quiet, bookish Tess, on the other hand, is quick-thinking and brave – surprisingly so. She’s easy to love, and she’s the one character who truly grows and changes as a person before the book’s end.
Of course, Born Wicked would not be complete without the inevitable love triangle. (Like the prophecy which shadows the Cahill witches wherever they go, I think it may have been written into the series' contract.) I don’t have anything against love triangles when they’re done well - when you’re truly torn between two characters – but for me, this one has a clear winner. Finn’s characterization is beyond anything I expected from this book. He has depth and he feels real. Paul, his rival, has clean-cut motives when it comes to pursing Cate, but Finn has so much more to give. He has courage and a heart of pure gold. He’s not your typical young adult love interest, and I adored that.
In short: it’s a bit hit and miss in the character department and the setting takes some investment on the reader’s part, but I enjoyed Born Wicked so much more than I thought I would, I just have to give it a positive rating. A little more wickedness wouldn’t go amiss in the sequels, but it’s a thoroughly well-crafted story and hard to put down.