[Trigger warning: rape]
I picked this book up because there was a three-for-one sale going on at the bookstore and there were only a few books that I was even remotely interested in. Also, I like reading books about witches, witches don’t have the same kind of issues that vampires and werewolves do. You know, with the whole necrophilia vs. bestiality thing?
So, yeah, this is a book about witches.
I think I can best sum up this book by saying that it could have been amazingly awesome. It could have been….but….everything, just everything.
At this point, I should note that I am going to spoil the shit out of this book. So if you reeeeally want to read it and see all the plot twists from a mile away yourself, go look at Zooborns for a bit.
The setting of the novel is the small island town of North Hampton, New York. “You mean East Hampton?” No, I mean North Hampton, it’s a quaint little town where everyone knows everyone else and nothing really exciting happens.
It also happens to be the home of the Beauchamp family, witches who are bound by a restriction not to use their magic and to live as normally as possible (does this sound familiar?). Freya, the youngest, is having man problems, specifically, “trying very hard not to cheat on her fiancee with another man kind of problems”. Her older sister Ingrid is trying to keep the library that she works at from closing, and their mother, Joanna, spends her days trying to fill the void in her heart due to a family tragedy by caring for her housekeeper’s son.
As you might expect, weird shit starts going down and it’s up to the Beauchamp family to get to the bottom of it, because it totally has something to do with them, because, you know, they’re witches and shit.
First of all, there seems to be some confusion as to whether this book should be classified as YA or not, and having read through the entire thing, I can understand the confuzzlement, because while the tone of the book makes it seem as if it’s for a younger audience, the content is….not so much, even if Melissa de la Cruz does use big words like “lugubrious” (which is a fancy way of saying “scary”, which I first heard in Disney’s Hercules, that was such a fun movie, I mean, the mythology was mangled almost beyond recognition, but it was fun). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this book is adult because of the semi-graphic sex scenes, but the whole book feels like the author wanted to write one or the other and then just….kind of forgot where she was going with it. I’m just going to pick a random paragraph and quote it. Note, the context is that Ingrid mistakenly believes that the cop asking about her reading preferences is into her:
She frowned. Ingrid did not like it when people made fun of her; she had a sense of humor but she didn’t like a joke when she was the punch line. It was so obvious he was talking about her, and if this was his way of asking her out on a date, he should really know better. Let him down gently, Ingrid told herself. The poor guy was obviously in love with her, and she would not want to hurt his feelings. She wasn’t completely heartless.
But it turns out he actually likes someone else, he was just asking about Ingrid because he was too nervous to talk to her co-worker.
Oh wait, at the end of the book it turns out he was into her all along, so she was all jealous and stuff for nothing. Oh well, that’s good, I guess.
In addition to the awkward prose, the author cheerfully drags out every small town stereotype in the book. We have the reverend who secretly has a thing for the kink, the book’s sole gay man (note: Freya mentions having had relationships with women in the past, but she’s all about the men now, I think I’m going to start calling these the “one-liner bisexuals” or something), who (in addition to the author going on about how awesome he is as if to say SEE THIS AWESOME GAY MAN, EVERYONE?) is dealing with a homophobic mother, and the Alvarez family, who, shockingly, are a Latin@ family who work for the Beauchamps as housekeepers/landscapers/odd job folks, because POCs being the hired help is something I have NEVER seen before, EVER.
Okay, I admit it, I thought Hudson was kind of cool, but I’m biased towards LGBT+ librarians.
Overall in terms of style, I would say that this book is definitely what I would consider “beach reading”. (I was going to say “chick lit” but I’m a chick and I don’t usually read books marketed as “chick lit” plus that’s sexist.) It’s a book that you read on the beach while working on your tan, and if it pisses you off, you can chuck it in the water.
You see, this book could have pulled off the small town vibe the way Jacqueline Carey did in her short story In the Matter of Fallen Angels, which, in my completely unbiased opinion, managed to pull off that small town vibe in a way that made the story engaging, but the thing is, a change to the writing wouldn’t do anything to fix the plain WTFery in this book.
There are a bunch of examples I could use, but I’ll go with the obvious one. So, the Beauchamp family has this restriction imposed on them that basically says they can’t practice magic. Well, Freya finally says “fuck that!” and whips up a love potion. Ingrid, upon learning this, is all like “Hey, the library where I work needs money, I’ll just start using my woo to help people who come to me with their problems! What could possibly go wrong?”
So then she starts, you know, dragging people into pentagrams and they’re totally cool with it (then again, this is fiction, so I suppose fictional characters are cool with a lot of things real people would find invasive and creepy), oh, and stuff starts going wrong with people her and her sister have helped.
I totally didn’t see that one coming.
But that’s not even scratching the surface of the WTFery in this book. This is where this review gets really, really spoilery. Seriously, if you still care about spoilers, don’t read past this line.
Okay, so basically the back story of the Beauchamp family can be summed up as this. They’re all Vanir who were trapped on Midgard when Freyr (sorry, Fryr) and Loki destroyed Bifrost (sorry, Bofrir), which is really made out of dragon bones. Also, Loki and Balder are brothers. Freya was going to marry Balder but Loki interrupted their wedding and killed him with mistletoe. Joanna is Skadi (who is Hel’s, sorry, Helda’s sister), her estranged husband is Njord (sorry, Nordj) and Ingrid is Erda (who seems to be confused with Verdandi rather than the earth goddess). Oh, and it turns out all the bad stuff that’s been happening is Loki’s fault, and then, in the epilogue, Fryr appears out of nowhere and claims that the bridge was Loki’s fault too. Oh, and basically the girls were outed as witches when they lived in Salem, hence the restriction on using their magic. (Whenever they die, Joanna just finds herself pregnant again.)
And that is why this book could have been so awesome, because somebody realized that the Norse pantheon includes other deities besides Odin, Loki and Thor with Freya usually thrown in for sex appeal.
But seriously, WTF is up with those names? What is this, Norse mythology word scramble?
So, in sum, this book is to Vanatruar what Marvel is for Lokeans, except this isn’t nearly as popular and Marvel mangled the Vanir as well. (Well, to be far, she did get the family tree mostly right, what with Skadi and Njord being estranged and all, the rest is fucked up though).
Oh, but apparently it’s popular enough that it got it’s own TV series. Fantastic