Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Once a Witch
by Carolyn MacCullough
September 14, 2009 
Borrowed from Library
Grade: B+

Synopsis (from publisher): Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all. This is a spellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.

Have you ever read one of those books where you’re fifty pages in and you’re nearly dreading reading the rest of it because you’re completely sure you know exactly where it’s going? That was Once a Witch for me.

...Except that nothing in the book happened the way I’d predicted. It was completely awesome, and I will never, ever assume where Ms. MacCullough is heading in the future. I ended up really enjoying Once a Witch! I’d seen reviews around on the blogosphere so I’d had pretty high expectations of the book, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the enormous and loving family that Tamsin came from. Their Talents seem to be a combination of pagan beliefs and general magic, and I enjoyed that each of the family members had particular Talents that differed from everyone else. From Rowena’s pretty creepy ability to talk anyone into anything to Aunt Beatrice’s Talent allowing her to knock people out to Gabriels’ time travel to Tamsin’s ...oh yes, she doesn’t have a Talent, does she? Anyone who’s read a book before can guess that Tamsin definitely isn’t the only member of her family without magic, and I seriously loved the Talent she possesses. It was inventive, different, and very interesting to think about.

But I was talking about the family, especially Tamsin’s parents and sister, who are very involved in our heroine’s life which is a nice change from the run of the mill YA book where teenagers seem to have sprung from eggs and live as independently as people in their twenties. Tamsin deals with the difficulties of having engaged parents including phone calls at the absolute worst time and needing to think about how her mother’s worry could be handled. It was excellent to read.

Tamsin’s a smart and determined heroine who’s fought her whole life to try to separate herself from the Black Sheep designation she feels she’s picked up as the only unTalented one. Her conflicted feelings about her family serve as the instigation for the plot as it unwinds, but at her heart, Tamsin loves her relatives and will do anything to help support and protect them.

I was especially impressed with the development of the secondary characters. Grandmother, Rowena, the various aunts, uncles, and cousins, and Gabriel all have their own distinct personalities and quirks and fill the family farm with a real sense of real people living there as opposed to a bunch of easily exchangeable cutouts.

I’m chomping at the bit to get the sequel Always a Witch which is already out in bookstores (YES! No waiting!) and see where Tamsin’s - and her family’s - adventures lead.

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