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Brunch Book Club Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

born wickedEverybody knows 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.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word… especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering 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.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.

When Michele and I first added Born Wicked to our TBR list for #BrunchBookClub, I knew nothing about the Cahill Witch Chronicles, with the exception of a lovely meet and greet with the author, Jessica Spotwood. Her description of the story was so interesting that I immediately added the book to my TBR … and then never got around to reading it. Oops.

I finally did read it though, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I really liked the idea of a Crucible-styled Salem Witch Trials retelling, with further paranormal elements added into the story. There’s some pretty definite views on gender, religious beliefs and the constructs of power, but they are well woven throughout the story. Considering the recent calls for more diversity in our YA fiction, it was delightful to have a book that had multi-diversity throughout the storyline, including nods to racial and cultural diversity and LGBT characters. Additionally, I thought that Spotswood did an excellent job of building the suspense of the town, and of setting up the Puritanical-stylings of the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood. The setting of the story was so clearly defined that I could picture myself walking through this alterna-history New England setting, and could picture the secondary characters clearly.

There’s also a great set-up in the relationship between Cate and her sisters, Tess and Maura. Their relationship is pivotal to the whole series, and they are individually strong and vibrant characters. Collectively, they wield tremendous power, and while the foreshadowing seemed a bit heavy at times, I don’t think that it was entirely unnecessary. Each sister has their own strengths and weaknesses, and for the series to continue, they need to be strong enough to evolve and grow with the story. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I preferred reading about Cate’s relationships with her sisters than her rather obvious flirtations and angst-filled sessions with Paul and Finn.

Throughout this book I felt that I was constantly being reminded that it was the first book in the series. So much of this book was set-up, and the ending … !!!! Well, let’s just say that this is definitely not a standalone. When there’s so much background being given, there isn’t a tonne of room for movement, and there were definitely times that I felt that the story suffered from a lack of action. I also felt that the Brotherhood was set up from page 1 to be the Big Bad, and that it was pretty clear that the Brotherhood = bad news for Cate and her sisters. I would have enjoyed a bit more ambiguity about their role, and about the relative strength of their power in the town. Finally, my feelings about love triangles are well known, and I’m not entirely sure why Finn was added as a romantic lead.

I’m looking forward to discussing this book with Michele, and hopefully confirming in my own mind if I want to continue reading the rest of the series.

Did you read Born Wicked? If so, leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Born Wicked is published by Speak, and distributed by Penguin Canada. It is available from your friendly indie bookstore and other fine retailers. ISBN: 9780142421871, 352 pages.

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Categorised in: Brunch Book Club, Reviews

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