Book Reviews

[review] Once a Witch – Carolyn MacCullough


Release Date: September 4, 2009
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 292
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

Discovery: I’ve had my eye on this book for two years now. Witchcraft in literature has always been a favourite topic of mine.

+     Dialogue. MacCullough’s writing does a lot to make you want to keep reading, but her dialogue just shines. Each conversation Tamsin has with her family is layered so well that you get to know them. When Tamsin talks to Gabriel, the air crackles with tension. Her banter with Agatha is just as telling as her defensiveness towards Rowena. Words are so powerful to witches and I love that the novel illustrates perfectly.

+     Characterization/relationships. I’ve found that I gravitate towards protagonists that don’t always take themselves too seriously. Tamsin is a great example of this: she may be the only Talent-less witch in her family, but she is determined to make a life for herself anyway. I loved her spirit and her passion to be whole and real despite not being what her family wants her to be.

I read Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures, which is in the same sub-genre as Once a Witch, but I never formed an emotional attachment to Lena and her family. The Greene family was much more accessible and I didn’t have to wait to get through more than three-quarters of the book to find out what was going on. Every chapter paid off with a new discovery.

+     Romance. Gabriel, Gabriel, Gabriel. Besides the historical background to Once a Witch, he’s the reason I was so eager to pick up the sequel. Carolyn MacCullough drops tiny hints about how Gabriel feels for Tamsin, but I finished the book yearning  for more interaction between the two of them. It’s easy to see that they belong together, but I want to know about their childhood and how they really see each other.

–     Lack of context. I do think that this book could have used more pages. The last few chapters seemed rushed and all of the historical background was belatedly laid out. Tamsin’s ignorance isn’t a burden that she should have had to bear, since her family could have trusted her to handle more knowledge. There are times that the story falters because of all the “could-have-beens” and “what-ifs,” but MacCullough does manage to wrap things up well.

Recommendations: I enjoyed this book so much that I went straight to Always a Witch after finishing it. Once a Witch is a compelling and energetic story, with a loveable protagonist who will enchant any YA reader.

Rating: Very good.

Go check out Carolyn MacCullough’s website and follow her on Twitter @cmaccullough.

You can check out Once a Witch on Goodreads and order it over at Amazon and Book Depository.

Next review: The Iron King, Julie Kagawa

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