Book: Born Wicked (Cahill Witch Chronicles #1)
Author/Authoress: Jennifer Spotswood
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 secret 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.
No offense to whoever decided the blurb was a good description of the book but it definitely is not. The discrepancies start in the first line. Contrary to what the blurb suggests, this book is not full of Mary Sue’s who are way too pretty, way too smart and way too mysterious. The sister’s are all pretty relatable; they have their own flaws and foot-in-the-mouth moments.
A large part of the plot relies on the worldbuilding, and Oh My God! What a world! Set in an alternate version of the US, where witchcraft exists and is stifled. The history of the world is confusing at first, but here it’s in a nutshell. Around 100 years ago, the Brotherhood gained power, killing all the witches and then setting up a Puritan-like regime under which women have no power and very few rights. They use the witches’ power to justify suppressing women and making them subservient.
But what I liked most about the book were the sibling dynamics. Favouritism, jealousy, teasing, rivalry- this book had it all. Though the sister’s sometimes go out of the way to get on each other’s nerves, at the end of the day, they’d do anything to keep each other safe and happy.
As far as characters go, Cate Cahill is as good as you get. An admirable character despite all her flaws;She’s fiercely protective of her sisters, but at the same time somewhat resentful of them. After all, she has to play disciplinarian to her two contrary, wilder, free-spirited sisters, and it sucks the life out of her to do so. She’s angry with the Brotherhood and the rules of the world, and though she tries concealing it, it shows. She’s distrustful of the world around her and deeply paranoid that someone will figure out the secret of her sisters. As a result she keeps everyone at arm’s length but she tries (she really tries) to help people who are unable to help themselves. She hates her own magic because she hates that it puts them all in danger of being found out.
Maura and Tess have less screen time than Cate does. But Maura is a very interesting character. Sometimes spiteful and petty, she’s jealous of Cate. Unlike Cate, she fully embraces her magic and resents Cate for cautioning her. She’s a true romantic but at the same time, she’s resolved to marry pragmatically. The reason for this becomes clear near the end of the book. Tess is the sweet, bookish younger sister. Precocious, quiet and wise- both of her older sisters adore her. Yet, Tessa seems to be closer to Cate than Maura.
Elena is another fascinating character. She’s a governess sent from the Sisterhood (a convent like organisation). Right from the start she’s unpredictable. The sister’s expected a governess who was old, traditional and stuffy ; instead they got Elena’s pretty, intelligent and fashionable. She pushes the sisters towards entering the Sisterhood instead of the more conventional marriage route. She’s a manipulative and cunning women who quickly wins Maura’s favour. Cate dislikes her for thoroughly winning Maura over (part of it is jealousy), and distrusts her motives.
Yuck! There’s a love triangle. On one side, we have the best friend, Paul- a successful architect and someone who understands Cate’s thirst for adventure. On the other wee have the bookish, deeply loyal, mostly innocent gardener- who’s thoroughly unsuitable. Oh angst, angst, angst. Who will Cat choose? That was sarcasm, by the way.
Where did that come from? Out of nowhere, that’s where. I can honestly say: I did not see that coming. But if there’s one thing that the ending succeeded in , it was in making me impatient for the next book .
The blurb is a bit iffy and I’m not on board with all the romance in this book. But I really did love the complicated relationship between the sisters as well as the firendiships developed in the book. I think that more than balances things out. The strong feminist messages in the book also scored the book a couple of points (or more than a couple, really) with me along with all the diversity ( we have Japanese, African-Americans and some lesbian characters in the book- all who play a major role)
A fun read, that can get pretty intense at times. Don’t read this book for the romance; read it for the familial relationships.