Witches are not a thing I reach for in YA, despite my love of them. They’re usually so badly written, badly executed or very Sue-ish. All the others I’ve tried have been left unfinished or un-hauled.
But not this one.
The babies were born as the clock struck twelve. A bat fell from the air mid-flight. A silver salmon floated dead to the surface of the river. Snails withered in their shells, moths turned to dust on the night breeze and an owl ate its young. The spell had been cast.
Genre: Young Adult
Stand alone or series: #1 in the Hawkweed series
How did I get this book: Bought
I had high expectations for this. While it didn’t quite hit them totally, it was still a great book. This was atmospheric, dark and beautifully written.
Several hundred years ago, there was prophecy that said one of the Hawkweed sisters would give birth to the next queen of the witches. This means everything to Raven Hawkweed, a powerful witch, who is sure her daughter, Sorrel, is meant to be queen. Even if she has to ensure her sister’s pregnancies fail to make it so.
But then Charlock falls pregnant with a girl.
The book follows Poppy – a regular girl who is followed by strange occurrences. Cats flock to her in the street, flies drop dead in the air and one day when she was a baby one of her eyes suddenly changed colour.
And then there’s Ember, terrified of bugs and disgusted by grime and the most disappointing witch there ever was.
This isn’t your usual switched babies story. I was drawn in immediately and stayed, entranced, until the book was done. I love the variety of female relationships in the book – there’s very few males (obviously, as the only men we see are in the ‘chaff’ world: witches do not give birth to male babies) so we get everything from best friends to cousins to mother/daughter relationships and how the clan works as a whole.
I love the two main characters, Ember and Poppy. Both in their own way are charming and awkward and total outsiders. They both feel so out of place and then find each other – they have no idea that they were meant to have each others’ lives. Ember is so innocent and unaware of the outside world, she’s scared of Poppy at first and then curious about everything Poppy can tell her about the world of ‘chaffs’. Poppy, however, eats up any information Ember has about witches and the clan. They’re both so adorable and curious and it’s a bit heartbreaking as they find out about the lives they should have had.
Poppy is fearless and kind and loyal. She’s an outsider and knows it and I like how she comes to embrace it. She grows a lot and struggles to accept who she is, even though she’s drawn to it.
Ember on the other hand, is quite introverted and naive. She’s extraordinarily innocent and even Poppy herself imagines a time that Ember will lose that. Ember has a lot of insecurities from being a terrible witch and shunned by most of her clan. Sh desperately wants a friend and is lucky to find one in Poppy.
I’m not going to talk about any other characters for spoilers and because these two are the important ones. Strong female friendships is something I love in a book and I think this pretty much hits it on the mark. I hope it continues in Book 2.
I’m going to be honest, I prefer the friendship between the two girls than the romance aspect. Leo is fine but the two girls have better chemistry together and I’m much more interested in their relationship.
However, both Leo/Ember and Leo/Poppy had some sweet moments. I liked the end twist – I wasn’t expecting it but if I’d paid attention to the clues, I might have been able to figure it out, or at least have an idea about it. I’m curious where it’s going to go in the next book. Love triangles can be a bit over-used and cliche so I’m hoping this will be interesting and fresh. Leo needs a bit more fleshing out and I’m hoping this will also be touched upon in the sequel. It sounds like he has an interesting backstory but I’m glad we didn;t see much of it in this book. This story is Poppy’s and Ember’s and I’m glad it stayed focused primarily on them.
What I love in this book is the world of witches. They have magic and cast potions and live secluded away from normal humans. We get a lot of information about the camp, where Ember lives, and the general lives of the witches. We get a pretty varied look at the spells they use too and the relationships between the women. We get an insight into the world outside of the one just Poppy and Ember inhabit. I’d love in the next book to hear more about the other clans, more than we already have heard about. But overall, I’m happy with it. I feel we learn a lot about the world and it better helps us understand the motivations and goals of the characters.
Pros: Strong friendship, atmospheric, awesome use of magic
Cons: An overabundance of descriptions, a gruesome scene in the middle (which can be quite upsetting, you are forewarned!) love triangle
Favourite character: Poppy