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Born Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book One

Review

Born Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book One

Cate Cahill feels responsible for her sisters. After all, she’s the eldest of the three, and she promised her mother on her deathbed that she would keep them safe --- from all things, but especially from the Brothers, the cruel, Puritan-esque men of the religious order that rules New England. Aside from mandating social order, the Brothers are obsessed with stamping out witchcraft.

"Set against a backdrop of tea parties, crazy church sermons, and forbidden romance, BORN WICKED is solidly original and soundly conceived.... This should be a series well worth seeing all the way through."

Sound familiar? It should, but if you keep reading BORN WICKED, you’ll realize it’s far from a retelling of THE CRUCIBLE. This speculative historical fiction by debut author Jessica Spotswood imagines a New England that’s possibly more frightening than the one that did exist in the 17th century --- and this novel is set at the turn of the 20th. Cate fears the Brothers not just because they have the power to accuse any girl of witchcraft and send her off to an asylum without a trial, but also because she knows they’d have good reason to do that with her. Cate, as well as her sisters Maura and Tess, are witches, and so was their mother.

Their father has no idea, and Cate has implored her sisters for years to keep their magic a secret, and to practice it as little as possible. Still, they can’t ignore it completely; not only is it tempting and rightfully theirs (imagine being a musician and being told you shouldn’t practice your violin, or being drawn to nature and having someone tell you that your paintbrushes and pencils are dangerous), but not using it at all can cause the magic to explode out of them at inopportune moments. Their father has no idea that all the women in his house are witches, and Cate wants to keep it that way. It’s especially important that her sisters know how to control it, because soon Cate will have to announce her intention --- a rite of passage for every teen in the society --- to either marry or join the Sisterhood, a nun-like order of women who ostensibly work with the Brothers.

Secrets get harder to keep, and they start mounting when Father announces that the girls will have a new governess, Sister Elena. Maura and Tess are excited, and Maura especially forges a close relationship with the governess, who becomes her only friend outside her family. But Cate is sure there is something sinister about Sister Elena, and she’s also understandably threatened about her position as eldest sister-mentor.

Set against a backdrop of tea parties, crazy church sermons, and forbidden romance, BORN WICKED is solidly original and soundly conceived. The beginning of a trilogy, it presents the beginning of a mystery that readers will be eager to see solved, and the world Cate and her sisters inhabit is just familiar enough to be readable while also being fresh and fascinating. Much like CHIME or PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS, it should appeal to fans of historical fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as it incorporates elements from all. Unlike many other books with similar themes, it doesn’t read as if it's beating feminist ideas to death or obviously inserting a 21st-century consciousness into a place where it doesn’t belong.

It might be a modern take on many elements of American history and literature, but the characterizations and settings don’t feel misplaced or implausible. This should be a series well worth seeing all the way through.

Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gomez on April 27, 2012

Born Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book One
by Jessica Spotswood