When I read a book for CBR, I like to wait a few days to review it so I can gather my thoughts and decide what I want the focus of my review to be. In the case of A Secret History of Witches, this was a mistake. I mostly spent those few days remembering everything I didn’t like about it.
A Secret History of Witches is the story of five generations of a family of witches. Story, actually, is a bit strong, as very little happens. It’s told in five parts, one for each of the women (Nanette, Ursule, Irene, Morwen, and Veronica), and some parts are better than others. By the time I got to Irene, I was starting to wonder if anything was going to happen other than the women finding out they were a witch, learning more about their craft from older female relatives, and then trying to find a man to have a baby with to carry on their witchy line. This sums up the first three parts, and by the time you get to Morwen, you’re more than halfway through the book.
This is a shame, as Morwen’s story gets pretty good. There’s some real excitement and suspense generated there, but unfortunately, it cuts off abruptly and moves on to Veronica. Now, Veronica’s story is also fairly interesting (more on that in a moment), but it’s a shame that we spend two-thirds of the book on very little plot before getting to Morwen, and then her story ends so suddenly. When Veronica’s story starts, Morwen is dispensed with quickly and in a pretty unsatisfying manner.
I do have to address the bizarre twist in Veronica’s part. (Small spoiler alert, although you could gather this from the book jacket) Veronica comes of age during World War II, and soon learns that she can use her powers to affect the outcome of the war. All fine and good so far, but then a character is introduced that I think will throw some readers for a loop. By this point in the story, I was kind of like, “sure, whatever,” but I could see how some people might find it jarring and take them out of the book a bit.
A Secret History of Witches would have been a much better book if it had focused on Morwen and Veronica, and maybe the backstory provided by the first three women could have been done with some short flashbacks. There was a moment of real suspense and horror in Ursule’s story, and I thought for a moment maybe the plot was heating up, but then it went back to its routine of puberty>discovering witchy powers>learning more about the craft>finding a man for some babymaking. I wish there had been more Morwen, and maybe more Veronica. Unfortunately I think this book will soon fade to the point where I barely remember reading it, and that’s a shame. There was some potential here.