Monday, 25 February 2013

Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #1) by Jessica Spotswood
Released: 8 January 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Penguin
Source: Received for review
Reason for reading: Everyone raved about it when it released in the US last year
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads description:

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.

My thoughts:

Born Wicked was a book everyone read and loved when it was released in America last year. I decided to wait for the paperback release but then Penguin fortunately decided to publish it over here. It was a book I always had a feeling I'd enjoy and, fortunately, I did. At first, I wasn't too sure about our version of the cover, but I've warmed to it. 

Born Wicked is set during the Victorian era in America, but the alternative history setting makes it more interesting than any historical fiction book I've read. I loved the subtle changes, some positive, most alarming, that made me feel like I was learning about a whole new world instead of my own several hundred years ago. I liked how Jessica Spotswood sort of twisted the idea of Puritans settling in the States to build to her world, it was a clever move. 

Cate Cahill is the narrator of our story, but interestingly enough, didn't always feel like the star of it. I have such conflicted feelings about Cate. On one hand, I loved her dedication to her sisters; her level of self-sacrifice and her willingness to do whatever it took to keep them safe. On the other hand, I found her so infuriating at times! It's interesting, because she actually isn't the smartest or the brightest of her sisters. She says and does things that made me groan with frustration because they just weren't smart. She's clearly not one for strategy or forward-thinking. Normally, when you have a story about prophecy, it tends to be sorta obvious who it's about and at first I thought "well, obviously it's Cate" but the more I read, the more I wondered. Because of her tight leash on her sisters, you're never really sure what they can do, who is the strongest, who knows the most magic...and the prophecy is quite open-ended which leaves a lot of room for speculation. 

I liked how the 3 sisters were all really different. Maura and Cate stole the show a little bit from young Tess, but I think she may be my favourite. Maura was so volatile, so passionate but unpredictable that I felt a bit uncomfortable about her.  Weirdly enough, my favourite character was actually Sachi. There's a girl who knows how to be shrewd. She was cunning and clever and entirely not what I, or Cate, expected.

The love story element of this book is really interesting and for me, unusual. When Paul is first introduced into the story it seems quite a cut-and-dry plot line; but the introduction of Finn definitely shakes things up. A great portrayal of a long, simmering relationship verses an intense attraction and at first I was surprised the result, but not unpleasantly so. Both boys were fairly normal in the sense they weren't devastatingly attractive, strong, fearless and supernatural and this was very appealing. They fitted in well with the ideas of the story and the world it was set in.

About three quarters of the way through the tension, the stakes and the pacing really picked up for me. I could see how everything was going to unfold, how it should have unfolded, and the difference between that and what actually happened was so painful to experience. The false hope delivered, the way it seemed like everything was going to go just fine, only for it to be torn to shreds so easily and stupidly was almost unbearable to read. My heart was breaking for nearly every character by the time I turned the final page.

TL;DR: Born Wicked is a gem of a novel. A careful and accomplished story set in an alternative history that is both subtly chilling and highly realistic. 

Unrelated side note: where have I been? The screen on my laptop broke and the shop took a ridiculous 2 weeks to fix it. But I'm back, I hope ;)


  1. I have a love/hate relationship with this ending. Like you, I had a way I thought it should end and when it didn't I was heartbroken, but I hope that just means the next book in this series will be that much better. I kind of like that Jessica Spotswood wasn't predictable with her ending and decided to shake things up.

  2. It never ceases to surprise me how many books I've never even heard of. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It looks good.

  3. Just got this from the library, and looking forward to reading it! Fab review.

  4. Oh this sounds really interesting! For some reason I thought this was modern day setting so hearing it's historical especially the Victorian era makes me even more excited to read it. Awesome review Cait :)

  5. I'm so glad you finally got around to reading this! And that the hype delivered for you. I agree about the ending being painful to experience. I love those claw-at-your-heart endings the best, because of the desperation and frustration and heartache I feel. I'm not exactly sure what that says about me :P I really enjoyed the differences between the sisters too and I'm so eager to dive back into Cate's world, wherever her story may lead next. Thanks for re-igniting my excitement for Star Cursed! Fantastic review, Cait and welcome back!

  6. I've heard some mixed things about this book, but I like the fact that it's about 3 sisters with their own distinct voice :)


  7. I'm hoping to read this one this month! (We won't talk about the fact that I bought the hardcover as soon as it was released, and it's sat on my bookshelf unread since then...) It sounds like there are some great characters, and I like the sound of the long-simmering love interest. I'll ALWAYS prefer that to anything resembling insta-love.

    Fabulous review, Cait! Really fair, too. Other reviews of this were were all "omg it's perfect," but yours has made me excited all over again to finally read this one.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

  8. I just read this one! I agree about the prophecy - at first I thought it obvs must be about Cate, but now...I'm not sure. And that makes it even more interesting! Pretty excited for the sequel - great review! :)


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