Witch by Finbar Hawkins
Zephyr, ebook, £5.59
Review by Lottie Lightfoot
Evey witnesses the brutal death of her mother at the hands of witch hunters. Her mother’s last words implore Evey to look after her little sister, Dill. Rather than heeding her mother’s words and looking after Dill, Evey leaves her to the safety of a coven of witches as she sets out, hellbent on revenge, to find the four men who murdered her mother. The decision, in part, is also fuelled by Evey’s contempt for her sister, her mother’s favourite and who was born with magic where Evey was not.
Evey’s personal journey is backdropped by a war between men and witches. The aristocracy has planned a new Christian world order that has no room for witches, so they are sought out and captured to be brought to trial. Despite witches having been favoured in the past as healers and midwives, they find the public meeting them with scorn as paranoia and lies sweep through the land. I had a lot of high expectations for this book, as it seemed to be everything that I like. I like witches, revenge stories, and themes of sisterhood and feminism. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed.
Not a lot happens in the novel, apart from Evey talking about her mother’s death and how much she wants to commit revenge on those who murdered her. Nothing particularly momentous happens apart from the very beginning and the very end of the book. The rest is left to Evey’s narration. The entire book is centred on her quest for revenge. I’m quite fond of revenge stories if they’re particularly character-driven, but Witch is not. I found it hard to connect with Evey, the narrator. She’s petulant, moody, selfish, and acts rashly. There’s hardly anything likeable about her. The story effectively begins with her poor decision-making and selfishness, and her quest to the right wrongs and get revenge for her mother’s killers. While it’s Evey’s redemption arc that drives the story forward, I found it difficult to be engaged with the character even after her acceptance that she was at fault.
Aside from Evey, practically none of the other characters are fleshed out in a satisfying way. We know next to nothing of who the killers are beyond their names and the fact that they are witch hunters. We don’t know why they’re doing these things other than they just are and we need to care about it. Those who help her along her mission came across as “yes men”, rather than real people with their own feelings, needs, and wants.
I also personally found the writing style hard to connect with, especially as it didn’t maintain a particular style but warped over time. The writing style would be considered almost eclectic, beginning with short, to-the-point sentences and a guttural, old-fashioned way of speaking from the two sisters. As the book goes on, the original narration loses the odd style, making it overall inconsistent. The tone also continually shifts, from gruesomely depicted murders and near-death situations to the characters playing dress-up before the “final showdown” of the novel.
Overall, I just couldn’t engage with the novel in a meaningful way. None of the twists felt particularly shocking or interesting. The book did have some good points, however. The themes of sisterhood and standing up to patriarchy did not go unnoticed. Magic being tied to female power is nothing new, but it’s still a classic.