Monday, August 8, 2011

Once a Witch

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Graphia, 2009
292 pages
YA; Paranormal; Sisters
4/5 stars

Source: Bought

Tamsin comes from a long line of witches and yet she has manifested no Talent and consequently feels apart from her family.  She has escaped to boarding school in New York City and worked hard to stay away from the painful feelings they engender. One night while working in her grandmother's bookstore, a customer mistakes her for her "perfect" older sister Rowena; she does not correct his misapprehension and soon finds herself, her sister, and her entire family swept up in a century-long feud with a rival family and dormant power.

Tamsin is not the greatest heroine in my opinion as she is really whiny and moody about her lack of Talent. She greatly resents the rest of her family especially her bossy older sister who is poised to be the new head of the family when their grandmother passes. Tamsin wants to prove herself and is the reason for bringing a malignant stranger into her family's midst.  But when it counts, she will fight for her family despite the risks to herself.  She is resourceful and perhaps a bit foolhardy; I know I would have been a lot more afraid at some of the situations in this book but she plows ahead.

My greatest interest was in the sister-sister relationship, which is especially fraught. Rowena possesses the Talent of being able to persuade anyone else to do what she commands and frequently acts in selfish ways to control situations to her liking.  However she is the one most in danger from the mysterious stranger, which spurs Tamsin's desperate attempts to save her. Tamsin bristles and rebels but she does love her sister, no matter how different they are and how difficult their relationship is. I know some people won't care about this part but as someone with a sister, this aspect always attracts me.

Then there is the magic element. Everyone has different powers although we do not get to spend a lot of time with them. Among those powers are Gabriel, an old family friend who got hot, who can find any object (and incidentally time travel); Aunt Beatrice, who can freeze people with a touch of her hand; Tamsin's mother who can move extraordinarily fast; and Tamsin's father, who can control the weather.  See, it's a really cool variety but those powers aren't the focus so much as the mysterious conflict with the shadowy stranger.

Another thing I liked was the relative shortness of the book. Yes, this meant that some elements were shortchanged but at least there weren't pages upon pages of boring description. Everything was pared down and moved quickly, enabling me to fly through the book.

Overall: Some really cool situations; check back tomorrow for my review of the sequel Always a Witch.


  1. I've heard good things about this series and I'm glad I could read your perspective on it. It sounds like a very entertaining read and I love witches, so that's a plus, even if Tamsin (love the name) is a bit whiny. I love the girl's background in the cover, looks ancient and mysterious. Great review!

  2. Wow, I really like the souind of this. That family sounds really awesome. All those cool powers! :) And yay for it being a short book, because I need those when school starts. ;)
    Great review. Looking forward to your review for the sequal. If that one is great too, I will add them to my tbrlist.

  3. I also have a thing for witches, and I loved this book. I didn't realize the sequel was out. Thanks for the heads-up!

  4. i read your review of the sequel before reading this one. the premise is definitely interesting. i'm going to keep these books at the back of my mind, especially when i'm in the mood for a paranormal witch story.

  5. I need to pick this book up again. I had DNF-ed it a while ago, but I intended to pick it up again eventually. I didn't love Tamsin, but I liked the supernatural abilities and sister relationship. I'm happy to hear the pacing is brisk.


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