on September 5, 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy & Magic, Historical, Love & Romance, Occult & Supernatural
Sexual Content: vague sex scenes
Reviewed by: Rebecca
An ancient and dangerous power is being handed down from mother to daughter through some of the most consequential historic events of the last two centuries.
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.
From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
With its small doses of magic and potions, A SECRET HISTORY OF WITCHES is more a historical novel than fantasy. The novel follows six generations of Orchiére women handing down their witchcraft. As knowledge is passed down, elements are lost or corrupted. It doesn’t take long for ancestral rituals to be forgotten in the face of a changing society.
A SECRET HISTORY OF WITCHES is an excellent examination of tradition, duty and love. Each generation of women places value in different areas. There’s Nanette, who knew the importance of tradition and ritual but thought the line would die with her. There’s also Irene, who hated their place in society and craved the power that magic gave her.
While I loved having the book divided into the six narrators, spanning almost 200 years, I did feel that the novel shied away from some of the more difficult aspects of each character. Each POV section focuses on when the daughter comes to power and how she chooses to wield it. When a new generation is born, the POV changes, even if the previous witch’s story isn’t complete. While the mother grows older in the background, the narrator is always young. I would have loved to follow a narrator into old age, as her power changes and as her magical items are passed on to her daughter.
Each new generation is also warned how men fear powerful women and how the witch hunters could find and kill them. This is a very real threat in the 1800s, less so in 1900s. It would have been interesting to see the generations progress after World War II, when traditions are broken and countries are recovering.The novel is also unbalanced, heavily favouring Veronica’s story during World War II, but not fully examining Irene or Morwen’s. Irene’s rejection of tradition and embrace of power is brushed aside too quickly. There’s more to women than being young and deciding who, and how, to love. Had A SECRET HISTORY OF WITCHES followed its characters into old age and into more modern eras, it would have added so much more to the story.Series Titles:
For other novels with witchy women and historical elements, check out A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) by Deborah Harkness