Book Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

22 Mar

Book cover for Born Wicked by Jessica SpotswoodTitle: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Series: The Cahill Witch Chronicles, #1

Genre: Historical Fiction YA, Paranormal YA, Witches

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile

Release date: February 7, 2012

Challenge: Debut Author Challenge

Source: Bought it

Summary: Everybody knows 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.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word… especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering 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.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other.

Guys, there are lots of things that I especially love to read about. Fairy tales, Scotland, sisters, cops, soldiers or anyone who wears a uniform, gardens or flowers, small towns/farms, magic, witches. There’s a bunch more, but let’s just go with that last one for now because it’s the very thing at the center of Jessica Spotswood’s fantastic debut, BORN WICKED, the first book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles. Friends, there’s little about BORN WICKED that I didn’t enjoy. It basically hit a MESS of my good buttons. This is one solid debut, and I am almost beside myself with anticipation for book 2, STAR CURSED, to come out next February. Can we speed up time please? Kthxbai!

Before I get into the specifics, I wanted to talk about a trend that I’ve been noticing lately in YA that pleases me greatly when it’s done well, and that is the blurred genre line. It’s getting harder and harder to classify some YA books as strictly being one thing or another, and BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood is no exception. It’s historical fiction because it takes place just before the turn of the 20th century in Maine. Historical events, like the Salem witch trials, are alluded to. But BORN WICKED is also a little bit fantastical, because even though the place is real enough and some of the history is the same, one of the important plot elements here is the ALTERNATE history, which states that witches are known to exist and once were in positions of great power, and now the Brotherhood has overthrown them and rules New England with a strict, patriarchal, fanatically religious fist. And obviously, there’s paranormal stuff too because of the witches and all. Having all of these things going on at once could be confusing–and there have been instances where it HAS been for me–but Jessica Spotswood has a firm grip on her story, and she makes it believable, easy to read, gripping, and AWESOME.

The centerpiece of BORN WICKED, though, despite the imaginative, thought-provoking setting and social climate, is Cate Cahill. She is the oldest of three sisters who are trying to live without the guidance of their deceased mother (also a witch) while simultaneously hoping to keep the fact that they are all witches a secret from the dangerous, misogynistic, fear-mongering Brotherhood, whose mission is to hunt down and suppress witches and witchcraft through any means necessary. Guys, Cate is amazing. She’s a typical eldest child: she feels responsible for her sisters and determined to protect them. Cate is fierce, guys. She’s got so much worry on her plate that my heart broke for her and some of the decisions she has to make that put the safety of her sisters over her own wants. I LOVED CATE and her unflinching devotion to her family. She’s smart, by turns brave and fearful, especially when she discovers the prophecy about her family, stubborn as all get out, and fighting daily against all of her impulses to let her hair down and follow her heart. Truly a sight to behold.

The one thing that puts Cate’s meticulously constructed but fragile world in jeopardy is one Finn Belastra, resident gardener, construction specialist, avid book reader, and NERD. Seriously, every time Finn is described as pushing his glasses up on his nose, reading a book, with his messy hair and lean build, all I could think was, “HIPSTER!” Except without the snobbery. Guys, Finn is SWOONY and his relationship with Cate is sweet and hot and strong. I don’t think things are going to be easy for them, but man. I ship them MAJORLY. And their first kiss is STEAMY, so that helps.

I noted the social climate in BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood a little earlier, and I think it bears further mentioning, because the Brotherhood and the Sisterhood give this story some great moral ambiguity. Let me start by saying that the Brotherhood are nasty, y’all. Sexist, intolerant, condescending, brutal, deceiving, and vicious. To them, women are weak, stupid, insipid, worthless, and good only for breeding or the nunnery (the Sisterhood, the female arm of the Brotherhood). Women live in fear of being arrested and accused of witchcraft constantly. They’re infuriating. The Sisterhood is not all that it seems, though, and while I WHOLEHEARTEDLY endorse and support their end game, I didn’t necessarily like them too much, either. They’re manipulative, cold, ruthless, insensitive, and single-minded. The Sisterhood is that great kind of “good” guy who appears to be working towards a worthy goal but maybe goes about it in a less than kosher way. I LOVE THIS AND AM READY FOR MORE NOW.

Seriously, I couldn’t put BORN WICKED down, friends. The story was engaging, clever, and fast-paced with lots of drama and a SUPER ending. The characters are all well-developed, complex, and evocative. The romance between Cate and Finn is the BUSINESS. The world and the alternate history is fascinating and hooked me right away. I wasn’t kidding when I told the universe to please make it February 2013 already, friends. I’m buying what Jessica Spotswood is selling, and I’ve got money burning a hole in my pocket!


8 Responses to “Book Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood”

  1. Pocketful of Books March 22, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    This sounds awesome! I love a super ending! I also like things that are both fantastical AND historical so this sounds like something I’d enjoy! Great review x

  2. Candice March 22, 2012 at 9:37 am #

    Now that you mention it, I have been seeing more and more mixed genres lately and you’re right: when they’re done well, it’s absolutely great! I think witches are always a hard subject to write about because there’s SO MUCH you can do with them… this one sounds like Cate has all the good attributes of being a witch! And the Brotherhood and Sisterhood? Yes! I love “evil” and “sneaky” religious groups in books – they add so much depth! Great review, as always!!!

  3. Ashley Prince March 22, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    I have this book and I am so ready to read it. 😀 Great review.

  4. reutreads March 22, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Hipsters! Steam! Sounds good 🙂

  5. Heidi March 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    I LOVE your list of things you love to read about! I totally have a similar list of things that just grab me as well, and I love that they don’t have to be big. And also I LOVE genre bending! That’s one of the things that’s really attracted me to this book. Genre blurring doesn’t always work, and it’s really glaring when it doesn’t, but when it does man oh man am I a happy reader. I loved that you talked about the Sisterhood and the Brotherhood, as I haven’t read about that aspect in other reviews. Really excited to finally get my hands on this one!


  1. Recommend A…(14) « Tripping Over Books - August 20, 2012

    […] Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles #1 by Jessica Spotswood. Ah, witches! I love witches. What I loved about BORN WICKED was the way it was different from every other witch book I’ve ever read. The time […]

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    […] Genre: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (historical fiction, paranormal), Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood (paranormal, historical fiction, alternate […]

  3. [review] Born Wicked & Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood | coffeeandwizards - September 20, 2013

    […] “I couldn’t put BORN WICKED down” – Amy @ Tripping Over Books […]

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