Friday, 1 November 2013

Reviewed by Arianne: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood.

Product details:
Publisher: Penguin.
Paperback, 466 pages.
Release date: February 7th 2013.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 13+
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.



  1. Dude this sounds so good and right up my alley. I love books with witches and not the fluffy paranormal ones, either, but ones like THIS! I also think the setting and atmosphere would be really important to make this kind of story genuine so I'm glad Jessica gave a lot of details on that front. I also like how character oriented it seems, and personally I'm not a immediate disser of triangles. I mean I don't like the cliché tiring ones but they CAN be done right. Thanks for reminding me that I've been meaning to read this one for ages! It's funny how much I forget about all the books I wanted to read SO badly when it came out and then just didn't >.<

  2. Liz @ Planet Print1 November 2013 at 22:48

    Glad you enjoyed this one! It was a bit slow to start but definitely got a lot better. I loved Finn! Sorry you didn't like Cate too much. I liked her, but she wasn't my favourite. I haven't read the sequel yet, but I'm looking forward to it! Great review :).

  3. I Have wanted to read this for a very long time. I myself have many reasons for wanting to read it,First of all the cover is just breath taking. Next I love the idea of the story. 3rd I have read so many really great reviews on it ( yours being one of them). The one thing that has been holding me back though is that a lot of the reviews were very mixed on the characters and how they were crafted.
    Really great review!!

  4. I still haven't started this series, but shall soon!

  5. Great review Leanna, like you I loved the risks that Veronica Roth took in this book and I loved the ending as it was so in character. I didn't find Four's thoughts confusing as I had read some of the novella from his pov and that had me well prepared for what his thoughts were like. What I didn't love so much was the world building and how confusing it all felt (to me anyway). Still overall, this is still one of my favourite dystopia series and Tris and Four remain one of my fav fictional couples.

  6. Jess Hearts Books5 November 2013 at 18:45

    I'm really glad you enjoyed this one Leanna! I love what you said about getting to know the real Tobias in this book - I think that's very true. And I have to applaud Roth for staying true to her characters. I'm still all mixed up on how I feel about this book but I loved reading your thoughts and am really happy that it was a good ending for you. :)

  7. Amazing review, Leanna! I have just started Allegiant. I was wary because of the negative reviews, but you've made me more excited keep reading it! (Also I was spoiled about a BIG THING that happens, but I am hoping I can still enjoy it.)

  8. It such a good series - one of my faves. I can't wait to see what you think!

  9. Mine too! I know that Four's POV was very hit and miss for a lot of people in this book, and I agree that his IM was very different than I thought it would be. I understand it though, after everything he's been through. I need to read those novellas from his POV.

  10. Thanks, Jess. It was a great relief for me that I enjoyed this book. After seeing all those one stars on Goodreads, I was scared going into it!

  11. Oh, no! You got THAT spoiler?! I hate that people were posting spoilers all over for this one. Argh! Can't wait to see what you think of Allegiant, Emily - reviews have been very mixed! I loved it, but not everyone did, that's for sure!

  12. So good to read a review of someone who loved it. I'm all for people disliking it as it wasn't perfect, but I found so my enjoyment in reading this book.

  13. I really, really enjoyed it too. None of the books in this series are perfect, but they are a joy to read. I'm surprised at all the negativity surrounding this one. I'm really looking forward to the Divergent movie - I hope they do a good job with it! :)

  14. I totally agree that Maura is too stereotypical but I actually thought that all the characters were. I did love how the inequality between men and women was dealt with in this book, it was incredibly realistic and accurate to the time period!

  15. I cried a lot on Allegiant, But still god! Your review was gorgeous!

    Heitor Botti


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