July 8, 2010

Once a Witch: Review

I was a bit dubious about this book originally, just because witches have been done to death in literature and I wasn't sure how much fresh new insight could be brought to the topic. However, I noticed that it got some good reviews so I decided to give it a try.

Carolyn MacCullough's Once a Witch centers around Tamsin, a girl born into a family full of witches, prophesied to be a beacon among them - who is now seventeen years old and has yet to show a glimmer of Talent. Frustrated at constantly being the "family misfit," Tamsin jumps at the chance to prove herself when a stranger strolls into her family's bookshop - and undercover magical agency - needing help in finding a particular clock in the picture he carries. The stranger mistakes her for her powerful older sister, Rowena, and Tamsin does nothing to dissuade him of this notion, instead promising to take on the task. But it proves more difficult than she'd thought, and she turns to her childhood friend Gabriel, whose magical Talent is finding anything he searches for. Gabriel soon realizes the clock doesn't exist in their world - or rather, in their time. When they both Travel back to 1899 in order to find it, they unleash a series of events they never expected, putting Tamsin's sister Rowena into the clutches of a man who feasts on power over others. It is then that Tamsin discovers she is not as Talentless as she may have believed...and it's just in time, because she will need to figure out how to use her newfound powers to save the ones she cares about before it's too late.

Carolyn MacCullough does breathe new life into the interpretation of witches and magic, although she  keeps to some traditions (such as incantation circles and invoking the elements.) I enjoyed the idea that the witches each have their own unique power, be it reading minds, teleportation, persuasion, etc.


Of course, the exception to this is Tamsin, really, in that her power basically can negate anyone else's powers (and moreover, she can learn anyone's Talent provided they use it on her often enough). I wasn't expecting this to be her Talent, so that was a bit of a surprise, although I thought that the concept of others' Talents 'rubbing off' on her, so to speak, was a little too convenient. She could become awfully powerful that way rather quickly (indeed, by the end of the book she is throwing fireballs everywhere and freezing people on the spot). I was also a little disappointed that the book succumbed to the archetype of the unlikely hero/heroine suddenly discovering they possess great powers no one else does and that they are the one destined to save everybody and destroy evil. However, I suppose the novel wouldn't have been quite so interesting if Tamsin really had been so very Talentless as she originally thought.

I also thought that all the loose ends weren't tied up so well. For one thing, what exactly does Tamsin do when she touches the clock in the train station? How does her grandmother's power affect her? This isn't explained well enough for my liking. Not to mention how Tamsin suddenly becomes the Keeper at the end (and why Alistair gives up and goes back in time - I'm assuming that's where the door leads - without Rowena. What does he hope to accomplish?) I did think it was cool that Tamsin's "clocket" as she calls it becomes the object to hold all the power (that clocket was mentioned way earlier in the book and I didn't suspect a thing!)

Hence I am really hoping for a sequel. I mean, the bad guy seemed to be vanquished kind of easily at the end. I wouldn't expect Alistair to give in without way more of a fight. Plus, Tamsin's going to have some major life changes now that she has Keeper responsibilities. And whatever becomes of Agatha? We never find out.

These quibbles aside, I definitely enjoyed the mystery that surrounded Alistair, the clock, and the history between the two families. For the first half of the novel I was really lost as to what was going on, but not so confused that I gave up reading - just enough to make me keep puzzling about it. In retrospect, things make more sense (or about as much sense as a story involving time travel can make), and MacCullough obviously didn't want to give everything away right from the start.

I liked Tamsin's voice as well - she has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour I could relate to and appreciate. Sure, she complains about being the only one in the family without Talent, but given her situation, I don't really blame her. However, sometimes she came off as sounding too mature for her age (she herself admits to being "self-aware" which most teens aren't), and yet she sometimes does some very immature things. For instance - I could not figure out why she would leap into the past to find a clock for a stranger when she doesn't even understand his motives. Surely she would know that time travel usually has grave repercussions? (For that matter, why does Gabriel go along with it so easily? Sheer curiosity? Or just to please Tamsin?) I understand, obviously, that this event was critical to furthering the plot, but surely she could have had a slightly better reason for it. Simply wanting to "prove herself" to her family and sister (and what would she be proving except that Gabriel has the ability to find things in the past?) really isn't good enough to risk messing up the fabric of time for a man you haven't even done a background check on yet.

The romance that develops between her and Gabriel was sweet and not too rushed, although of course you could see it coming a mile away (if anything, my complaint would be that there could have been a bit more of it!) Still, I did enjoy Gabriel's character and the lightness he brought to the conversations between the two of them. The only thing I didn't really like was that Gabriel sometimes prioritized Tamsin's wishes over the smarter choice of action (for example, when he blindly Travels back in time with her).

Finally, I thought Alistair was a great villain up until the climax, where he seemed to lose some of his edge. The way he fed on Rowena, draining her while building up his own energy was intriguing (although I'd like to know a bit more about how it works, and how he was able to influence Rowena so strongly. Also, what exactly does he use Agatha for?) I must admit, I really disliked Rowena too; the snooty, condescending, admired-by-all older sister was characterized to perfection, and I admired Tamsin for fighting as hard for Rowena's life as she did (considering how much Tamsin also appeared to dislike her). However, Alistair was written in such a nasty fashion that MacCullough succeeded in making me feel a little sorry for Rowena (though once Rowena returned to normal she went right back to being very irritating, of course).


Overall, a fun read, particularly if you don't want to think too hard about the intricacies of a plot involving a feud between two magical sides across time. My rating: 3.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

1 comment:

  1. humm I just finished reading the second one to this always a witch (I haven't read this one yet. I know shame on me) I liked the 2nd one though. Good reveiw. :)


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