Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood


Born WickedTitle: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Genre: Alternate History, Historical, YA, Witches

Publication Date: February 7, 2012

Source: Bought

Synopsis: A gorgeous, witchy, romantic fantasy by a debut author! Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and the Beautiful Creatures series!

Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship–or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother’s diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe–not even from each other.

4/5 stars – A fun, diverse, female-friendly fantasy, but it needs more of a plot and more witchery

Without Usagi’s recommendation, Born Wicked never would have made it onto my radar. Love triangles and Blob-like romance that swallows all it touches aren’t my thing and reviews assured me both were out in full force with this novel despite the tantalizing premise and promise of sisterhood offered by Cate, Maura, and Tess. What I found in its pages was a pleasant surprise! The criticisms are right and I understand exactly where they’re coming from, but despite that, this was fun and tapped into my feminism–which is good, in this case.

Cate and her sisters are all beautifully developed and pop off the page as if they were real and arguing right in front of me about whether or not to use magic. Cate as the protective older sister who has seemingly internalized all the Brotherhood has to say about girls like her, Maura as the more independent-minded, rebellious sister, and Tess as the youngest sister who has yet to show much of how her life has affected her are memorable and had everything else about the novel fallen flat, they would have remained vivid to me.

Spotswood’s setting in which witches have always existed and once ruled but were deposed by the Brotherhood is also vividly drawn. It would have been easy for it to fall into the same homogenous casting so many other historical novels–realistic and fantasy alike–fall into, but her cast of characters is as diverse as it is well-drawn. Asian families are just as much a part of this New England as any other racial-ethnic group and there are no issues with it at all. One could contest how race isn’t treated realistically due to the lack of racial tension, but it works somehow and in any case, it’s a joy to see a diverse cast like this in a genre that often falls into the same trap over and over again.

Something sad about Born Wicked is how the plight these girls face in an alternate-history, circa-1900 New England isn’t always that different from what we as girls and women have to deal with in our own world. The rhetoric the Brotherhood spouts about how women are sinful, wicked creatures who must be tightly controlled for their own good is still preached in our world to this day, be it just as openly or more subtly.

You remember Texas, right? The legislators who recently passed a draconian abortion bill there seem to believe women’s bodies are so dangerous that what women do with them must be more tightly regulated and controlled than even guns. That’s right: our reproductive organs are more dangerous than weapons. The Brotherhood may be fictional, but their rhetoric–that girls are guns waiting to go off and must be kept from doing so by any means–is all too real and are exactly what we girls and women must fight every day of our lives even if we don’t realize we’re fighting it all the time. Realizing this made me sad and angry and in awe of Spotswood all at once. I LOVE subtle feminism in YA.

What keeps Born Wicked from making it into my collection of favorite books is the lack of plot, poor pacing, and how little witchery actually happens within the novel. Every now and then, Cate discovers something that advances the plot, but for the most part, it’s all about arguments with her sisters and the romance. The love triangle is barely a bother because one suitor is so rarely present that it’s clear he’s not going to win Cate’s heart. The other suitor isn’t any better because it’s insta-love all the way between the two of them. Later in the novel, their scenes become cloying and baffling in either measure because how they got to where they are so quickly is a mystery to me.

Though the lack of their powers being used is understandable to due to Cate’s vehement orders to use them as little as possible, what little magic we get from this witch novel is a bit disappointing. I love witch books, but I’d like to see them being witches and embracing their gifts for more than a handful of pages!

Not two hours after I finished Born Wicked, I picked up Star Cursed (there’s a good, long story behind it involving my car, a heavily backed-up drain that nearly gave the poor thing water damage on its first day, and more) and it’s just a little ways down in my admittedly massive TBR pile. Here’s hoping it can improve on Born Wicked‘s flaws and deliver an unabashedly fun story of witches, women, and the Cahill sisters’ destinies.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

  1. Great review! I was really drawn in from the beginning! The whole world that Spotswood has created is amazing and I love that you related the brotherhood to what’s going on in Texas (I still can;t believe they tried to do that).

    • Another friend started reading this a little while ago and she hates Cate’s guts. I hope I didn’t steer her wrong and I don’t steer you wrong if you get to this at some point! tI’ve been trying to avoid a lot of books where the jacket copy and reviews indicate there”s a lot of female oppression–most are using it as a plot/conflict device instead of trying to say something, which reads like a cop-out to me–bu Usagi said, so… Spotswood is one of the first authors in a long time to use that system with the intent to say something instead of using it for a generic conflict. That makes me happy and sad all at once.

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