Book Review: Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #1) by Jessica Spotswood
NOTE: This review has been transferred from our squarespace site, and we lost all comments in the move, apologies if one was yours.
Everybody 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 prophecy 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.
With Born Wicked, Jessica Spotswood weaves a delicious alternate history with vibrant characters that I intensely loved (and loathed), a pulse-pounding, simmering romance, and high stakes drama. The pace is slow in the beginning, but it only serves to allow the reader to savor Spotswood’s gorgeous, lush writing, and to soak up the rich details of the Cahill sisters’ world. The story builds nicely to a cliffhanger ending that will leave you charmed by the story, and desperate to know what happens next.
5 Reasons I was Bewitched by Born Wicked
1. Nasty iron-fisted dystopian leaders
I always love a good dystopian, but it’s nice to see a really well done one that happens in the past. In this alternate version of late nineteenth century New England, the Brotherhood has long since eradicated the rule of the Salem witches, and the teaching of the Daughters of Persephone. Women aren’t allowed to study, to vote, or to make any decisions of their own, lest they fall back to their eeheeevil, fruit of the devil ways. Reading most books is frowned upon, and the church governs all, via the all-wise men of the Brotherhood. Women are frequently accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to hard labor or the asylum. Or they simply disappear. As with most dystopian patriarchies, women are viewed as weak, wicked and simple-minded, and they are blamed for everything sinful in the world, no matter how involved a man is (like the woman who was arrested for tempting a Brother into infidelity—ALL her fault, naturally).
2. Sisterly love/hate
Cate is utterly devoted to her sisters, Maura and Tess, and would do anything to protect them, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. At every turn she asks herself what would be best for them before she makes a choice, even when they make her life incredibly difficult. And in the grand sisterly tradition of loving each other deeply while threatening to scratch each others’ eyes out, the girls’ sisterly devotion vacillates between fierce squabbling and undying support; but there’s never any question of whether they’ll take care of each other—of course they will.
3. Magic & Prophecies & Witchiness, oh my!
It’s incredibly dangerous for Cate and her sisters to practice magic—anyone who sees them could rat them out to the vile Brotherhood, and they’d be off to the labor camp, the asylum, or the graveyard. But these powers—casting illusions, healing, levitating, and memory massaging mind-magic—may be even more dangerous, because Cate and her sisters seem to pack more punch than the average witch. Apparently there’s a prophecy about three powerful sisters, one of whom will possess the power to manipulate minds. She is supposed to be the most powerful witch in generations, who could tip the balance of power back to the witches, or bring about another Terror and lead to their destruction. Yeesh, no pressure, right? I’m interested to see how their powers further manifest, and how the prophecy plays out in the next two books of the trilogy.
4. Sisters are doing it for themselves
Yeah, being a woman in this world sucks. You like to read fiction, philosophy, history? Too bad, you’re not allowed to read anything but church-approved drivel. You’re not really in love with the guy who’s proposing to you? Suck it up, it’s better than the Brotherhood playing matchmaker for you. Not so fond of teas and dresses and girlish trappings? People will gossip about you. Super fond of teas and dresses and girlish trappings? You’re vain and a showoff and probably about to perpetrate some serious wickedness.
In spite of the drab prospects for most women, and the way the wives of the Brothers seem to revel in the mindless frivolity of their prescribed lives, there are plenty of women who look for another way, shirking the ludicrous restrictions of the Brotherhood, all the while wisely managing to stay beneath their notice. As Cate and her sisters find out, there are many more people sympathetic to their plight than they would have imagined, and their would-be allies are just as well-organized and widespread as the Brotherhood.
5. Scholarly, bookselling, gardening hunk
The romance in this book is a meltalicious as it comes. Finn works in a bookstore (which, much to my delight, is the scene of some serious swoon-inducing kissing), and he’s a scholarly, glasses-wearing bookish type who would have gone to college if his father hadn’t passed away, leaving him with little money and a sister and mother to help (PS—this gets major bonus points in warrior sister Cate’s book), PLUS he also happens to be handsome and muscular, which is not at all improbable because he’s been working as the Cahill’s gardener for some extra scratch. Finn and Cate bond over her favorite place in the world, her garden, and over their shared hatred of the Brotherhood and it’s book-banning ways. If every gardener turned out to be a gorgeous, fiercely protective brother/son/boyfriend with hidden depths of intellect and a charming sense of humor, I’m pretty sure I’d have Versailles-sized gardens (don’t ask me how, I’d find a way).
Check out this trailer, where the aformentioned hot bookish gardener is on full display. In short, this book is just….YUM.