Monday, October 29, 2018

Review: Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling

Title: Witch Born
Written by: Nicholas Bowling
Published: September 25, 2018 by Scholastic

(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Alyce's mother has just been burnt at the stake for practicing witchcraft. With only a thin set of instructions and a witch's mommet for guidance, Alyce must face the world that she's been sealed off from -- a world of fear and superstition. With a witch hunter fast on her trail, she'll need the help of an innkeeper and a boy looking to discover the truth behind his own mother's past. 

But as her journey continues, another war rages: a hidden war of the supernatural, of the living and the dead. Good and evil are blurred, and nobody's motives can be trusted. And Alyce finds herself thrown unwillingly into the conflict. Struggling to understand her own powers, she is quickly drawn into a web of secret, lies, and dark magic that could change the fate of the world she is just coming to know. 

This dark, twisty, and thrillingly original debut will leave readers entranced in its suspenseful plot and rich prose.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

I first learned about this book at ALA and it sounded like a total me book, historical fantasy with witched and political intrigue, sign me up. I wasn't able to get a copy there but I requested one from the publisher afterwards and they were nice enough to send me a copy. And I am so glad, because this really was a fantastic read.

One of the things that I liked most about this book is the setting. Historical fantasy is one of my favorite subgeneres. I find it so entertaining for the author to take something that from history that I know well, or even a little bit, and make it their own with fantastical elements. That is exactly what Nicholas Bowling did with this book. He took the Elizabethan era and the battle for the throne between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen and Scots. That in and of itself is an interesting enough full of political intrigue and then Bowling did a great job with establishing the time and place. The 16th Century streets of London come to life along with the witch histeria, the dirty streets, and the distrust of women. I do wish that the figures of Queen Elizabeth I and Marry Queen of Scots had been given a little more attention, but it did make me want to learn more about them which a lot of historical fiction does.

But I think I enjoyed the world of this book so much because of the atmosphere. I love an atmospheric fantasy, especially in the fall, and this book had total fall vibes. I'm not really sure I would call it a dark fantasy but it was full of magic and mystery. What I liked about the magical system is that it seemed to be rooted in historical activities that got women accused of being witches like potion-making and being an apothecary. Then it took things further with magic I like alchemy and necromancy. I wish this magic got a little more explanation because it was really interesting and it felt a little basic.

But there was a lot of this book that was pretty basic, including the plot. Now don't get me wrong, the plot of this book was engaging. I was invested in what was happening and was curious from beginning to end, but the problem is I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a plot-driven narrative or a character-driven one. Is it about Alyce's development as she figures out who she is and her place in the world, or is it about the power struggle between two queens and their witch hunters? Unfortunately I think that the book wasn't quite sure either and that was to its detriment. It had decent character development with some twists along the way, and it had okay plot with the plot intrigue but I think the plot would have been better if it had committed to one or the other. It made for a fast read, an interesting read, but it made for a basic read.

 The characters too were a bit on the simple side, and just like the plot they were engaging but basic. Alyce was a good main character. She was one of those characters who was easy to root for. From the very beginning, things were not easy for Alyce. Society took her mother from her and threw her into an asylum. But despite all that she is strong and determined. The interesting thing too is that throughout the book I spent a lot of time trying to decide which characters were supposed to be the protagonists and which were supposed to be the antagonists. They all felt very dubious and those are the kind of characters I like best. That being said, a book full of those kinds of characters often means I keep them at arms length and never fully connect with them. It made them interesting characters but not particularly likable ones.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It wasn't perfect but it was a thoroughly entertaining read perfect for fall. It had an atmospheric setting that blended history and magic in a way that drew me in, an engaging plot that had me wanting more when it was over, and dubious characters.

I give Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling 9 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of historical fantasy. If you are looking for a YA that blends the two in an engaging way then this is a good read. If you like stories about historical witches this is also a good choice.

Have you read Witch Born? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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