Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: A Secret History of Witches

Aw man. This was great!

So, the book follows the history of a family, the Orchiéres, as they flea from France to life in England. The gift of witchcraft is passed down from mother to daughter but at all times they must keep it secret – or face a hostile world that fears women with such powers.

The story was great and the world building was effortless. Even though we travel through several hundred years, meeting a new Orchiére woman every 50-75 pages or so, it doesn’t seem disjointed or rushed. The only problem I had was that the story would occasionally be really stressful! So I would read it in giant gulps.

What was delightful was how each woman was an individual. They dealt with challenges differently, had different interests and wants. Some were sensible, some were volatile. They were all interesting to read in their own way – though Irene was my least liked Orchiére…okay, she was totally nasty. But that’s what made it interesting! Mothers and daughters who got along, mothers and daughters who were at odds with each other. Yet their craft linked them through the generations.

As somewhat cheesy as it was, I totally fucking loved Veronica’s story – which was the last one in the saga. By that point we’re up to the Second World War and lets just say, there are more witches in England and in places you may not expect! It was just kind of adorable after some quite heavy stories throughout the novel. Also, despite the fact that there is some heartache in this story, it felt much happier than some of the stories. Despite it being a great read, it’s very heavy in some places. There’s not an insignificant amount of sadness in some of the women’s stories.

But fundamentally what is brilliant about this book is women being amazing in so many ways. Strong, passionate, flawed, charismatic, pragmatic, practical, smart and silly. They all felt quite real as characters for the most part. I also loved all their individual familiars – and how they manifest in different ways. They were equally interesting characters, though they were part of the supporting cast. And the men were mainly the supporting cast – showing up as husbands, flings and antagonists. But they were there in the background with the thoughts and actions of women being at the forefront.

It was a lovely read. Pretty light but packed and emotional punch.

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