Monday, February 7, 2011

To be or not to be...A Witch

I always wanted to have magic powers and spent a considerable amount of time during my early adolescence imagining that my mother’s New England lineage included some connection to the Salem Witch trials and that deeply buried family secrets kept me from my true calling as a witch. My imagination has always been my very best friend.

Alas, there were no hidden witches in my family tree nor latent talent to shoot a spell from my fingers tips, but that wish for magic still hovers in the back of my head. Maybe someday…

In the meantime, I immerse myself in well written stories about witches and magic and what it might be like be so equipped.

None of the scenarios that were concocted in my brain ever included being a member of a family of powerful hereditary witches and NOT having Talent myself. This is exactly the situation that Tamsin Greene finds herself in in Once a Witch by by Carolyn MacCullough. Tamsin is a high school student, whose family of witches has command of innumerable Talents yet she herself lacks a Talent of her own. It’s hard being the family outcast, looked on as odd and pitied, and Tamsin tries to escape it by heading off to boarding school, where she is able to live apart from her Talent heavy family, most specifically her sister Rowena, whose upcoming wedding is sending the family into a tailspin.

One night, while working at the used bookstore, a strange man arrives seeking Rowena's help in locating a family heirloom. One of Rowena's talents it Finding and Tamsin lets him believe she is the witch he came seeking. She thinks she can help this man, Alistair, find what he is looking for and show her family what she can do without any Talent to call her own.

With the help of an old childhood friend, Gabriel, who lends his own Talents to Tamsin's subterfuge, Tamsin and Gabriel embarks on a whirlwind adventure of time travel, magic potions, a long held family secret and a shocking discovery that causes Tamsin to reevaluate herself and her family.

This story picks right back up again in the second book, Always a Witch, and immediately plunges Tamsin into a series of challenges that threaten the very fabric of the Greene family. Finding that the sinister Alistair had been in her home and taken possession of one of her relatives in an effort to unearth knowledge that will help him bring about the ruin of the Greene family, Tamsin realizes that she can’t sit idly by and let the Knight family threaten her family’s survival any longer and must do something drastic against the wishes of her family.

With her Grandmother’s dark warning casting a pall over her efforts– that Tamsin will have to make a crucial decision that could destroy her family- Tamsin embarks on dangerous time travel to Victorian-era New York. Once there Tamsin manages to spy on the Knight family by posing as a maid in their creepy and horrifying mansion, where she learns that they will do whatever they feel is necessary, including torture and killing, to escalate their family power base. Knowing that she has to stop them somehow, and get her family-in-the-past to heed her very important warning, Tamsin, along with Gabriel at her side, faces monumental obstacles and life changing action.

Once a Witch and Always a Witch are excellent middle grade books or for anyone who truly enjoys a tightly plotted story line that moves along with adventure and suspense, strong lead characters and a little romance that does not detract from the main arc of the tale. Tamsin is a likeable and scrappy heroine who is not afraid to kick some butt and maybe ask questions later. Tamsin has a slightly skewed sense of humor and a cynical bent but for all that she’s an engaging lead for this story over the two books. The sweetly developing romance she has with Gabriel is nice part of the books and offers insights about acceptance and expectations. Her relationship with her family undergoes significant changes in the two stories and shows a great depth of character growth for Tamsin and her relationship with her sister Rowena. There are a number of secondary characters to keep track of which causes some confusion at first, but many of them slide into the background by the second book.

The action moves at a brisk clip and transitions nicely from moment to moment. Tamsin’s big decision was shocking for me as it came at great cost to herself and the vision she had of herself and her place in the family.

And the books the physical books? They sure are pretty.

All in all I really enjoyed Always a Witch and will definitely pick up a copy when it is available for sale in August. Highly recommended.

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