Wayward by Hannah Mathewson
Titan Books, paperback, £8.99
Reviewed by Nadya Mercik
Welcome back to London, divided into six magical sections and its political undercurrents!
Hannah Mathewson’s Wayward is the second book in the Witherward series, but it can be pretty much read as a standalone.
London is not what we know it. Apart from the Otherworld, which wields no magic, there is the true London, divided between six different factions. There are Whisperers, who read minds; there are Changelings, who take forms; there is a closed community or distant Oracles, who see into the future; there are Wraiths, who move through the objects, and Psis, who inhabit the Underground. And there are Sorcerers, who channel the raw magic.
Cassia is technically one of the latter, but she was sent to live with the Changelings when she was five – a symbol of goodwill and a glorified hostage. She has found her family there; however, now she is back in the Heart of London, where her grandfather rules as a High Sorcerer. She desperately wants to prove herself and go through the initiation to become a member of the Society of Young Gifted Sorcerers, but for the second year in a row, she fails to pass the test.
At the same time, her older brother Ollivan, who was banished into the Otherworld for murder, returns and, with the help of his friends, manages to win the election for the Society’s Presidency. Now he has two years to prove himself and revoke the banishment. Apart from that, he has an old business to attend to – a dangerous spell he has left behind as revenge on his ‘friend’ Jasper, who, in Ollivan’s words, betrayed him.
When Ollivan comes looking for the spell vessel in their hidden room in the Society’s house, he finds it gone. It turns out that the vessel – an enchanted doll – was taken and woken up by Cassia when Jasper brought her to this secret room once. Moreover, the doll takes a liking to Cassia and will do everything to make Cassia great and powerful. Now Cassia and Ollivan have to overcome the bitterness of their sibling relationship and try to stop the doll, whose powers keep growing.
The novel touches on many topics. There is the theme of fitting into society and finding yourself and your place. Cassia’s failing attempts to wield her magic and to find the true intention for it is the result of so many years spent in the Changeling territory. There she tried to become a Changeling but obviously could not. Now she is striving hard to embrace her real nature but is failing again. We also witness wonderful family dynamics in the story. Cassia and Ollivan’s grandfather – Jupiter Fisk – is a man hungry for power and is used to having it in abundance. He has a plan for his whole family, and his despotic nature makes it difficult for the rest of the family members, especially Ollivan and Cassia, to find and be themselves. It brings out the adolescent rebellion as well as attempts to be a dutiful grandchild, both of which fail. On top of this, we have plenty of mystery and adventures and friendships being made and shattered.
Wayward brings together the vibes of Harry Potter’s magic and Nevewhere’s London with a somewhat Victorian atmosphere to the story. The spells here require an intention and a whole creative process to be wielded. There are beautiful descriptions of magic being done during Cassia’s initiation and further on. However, at the beginning of the story, magic seems to exist solely as a show. It is said that the initiation to the Society was about beautifully conjured tricks rather than true spells, but for me, it underrated the magic, and it took some time before it regained its true significance.
I also wished to see the small interludes more regularly and be less concise to give Cassia’s backstory more colour. And because I read the story as a standalone, not as part of the series, the whole rivalry between the sections seemed too sketchy for me. I definitely wanted to see and feel more of the tension.
All in all, Wayward is a beautiful and magical story, a Bildungsroman of sorts with dynamic and engrossing adventures.