Title: A Secret History of Witches
Author: Louisa Morgan
Length: 496 pages (Although I read an eBook version.)
Every once in a while a book’s cover instantly hooks your attention and refuses to let you go. The eldritch font paired with the elegant potions and enticing coloring put me right in the mood for an occult-themed tale. I immediately requested a review copy and was approved, so I want to start this review with a big thanks to Louisa Morgan and her publisher for giving me the chance to review A Secret History of Witches.
The initial setup of the book is excellent, especially for fans of historical fiction and generational storytelling. A Secret History of Witches follows the women of the Orchiére family through hundreds of years and jumps between point-of-view narrators with each new chapter. The idea of following the line of witches through the years is clever and creates opportunities to see how the perception of witchcraft might change over time.
A Secret History of Witches is a bit uneven when it comes to making the most of each character’s potential. Morwen’s story, set in 1910, stands out as one of the more memorable tales with effective character development, familiar cross-over characters from earlier tales, and a satisfying conclusion. If the story kept up the same caliber of storytelling throughout, I would be entranced.
Unfortunately, there are repetitive plot elements at work in many of the stories. Each of the main characters begins their story during, or very close to, their teenage years. The possibilities here could have been endless if the author had utilized characters of varying life situations and maturity levels. Instead, we get a familiar story with each character discovering their power at a young age.
One of the reasons that I like Morwen’s story so much is because it breaks from some of the plot conventions of earlier characters, especially as male characters are concerned. The Orchiére women tend to meet and consummate ill-advised relationships with male characters in suspiciously similar circumstances throughout the book. While there are a couple of interesting male characters, men generally serve to either cause trouble for the witches or to act as a necessary plot device to propagate the next generation of the family.
Morgan does an excellent job of describing authentic historical periods and, especially in the last story, weaving historical circumstances into the plot. The danger of being discovered as a witch, especially in the earlier tales, was believably portrayed. While romance and fantasy are a part of each story, A Secret History of Witches often reads like historical fiction.
Magic is practiced in secret, namely because being discovered could lead to dire consequences. The Orchiére women work primarily with rituals and potions. Do not expect any epic magical duels or exploding fireballs. That being said, the way that Morgan portrays magic is more realistic and fitting for her world than a fireworks display would be.
I recommend A Secret History of Witches to anyone who is looking for a historically themed romance with a backdrop of fantasy. I enjoyed reading the book, but I also felt that opportunities were missed along the way. I would be interested to see more from Morgan in the future.