Witch by Finbar Hawkins

Witch by Finbar HawkinsWitch by Finbar Hawkins
Narrator: Gemma Whelan
Published by Zephyr
Published on 1 October 2020
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Historical, Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Source: my local library
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2 Stars

Set in the 17th century, a breathtaking debut, and a potential prize-winner, about the power of women, witchcraft, fury, revenge and the ties that bind us.
After witnessing the brutal murder of her mother by witch-hunters, Evey vows to avenge her and track down the killers. Fury burns in her bright and strong. But she has promised her mother that she will keep Dill, her little sister, safe.
As the lust for blood and retribution rises to fever pitch, will Evey keep true to the bonds of sisterhood and to the magick that is her destiny?

I did not enjoy most of this book.

I don’t really want to write a ‘negative’ review, because I can see how some people might have enjoyed this. But the writing style – although unique, and with an excellent narrative voice, did not gel with me.

The book was written with archaic language, playing with grammatical structure reminiscent of language used in the 17th century. However, I did not enjoy it. By all means, I do not expect or even want a historical fiction book to be written in a modern day vernacular, but it’s not the specific word choices that were used that annoyed me. It was written from Evey’s point of view, and that uneducated girl is not going to be grammatically correct. I got used to that after a while.

The writing was so vague and deliberately overly flowery that I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on half the time. It seemed to be missing context. For example, instead of describing a person stabbing another, it was described as

“He swung, I flung, and I watched my knife fly. Brighter than his dull blade. It was swift, and deadly.”

I honestly had to rewind because I wasn’t sure if the character had been stabbed or not. The entire book is written this way, and it was a bit of a slog to get through. I can understand why some people would like this style, but it did not gel with me.

I also didn’t like Evey. I didn’t mind at all that she started in a very selfish place: in fact, I liked that. It gave room for growth. But I didn’t like how the book made Evey seem very normal, completely helpless at times and needing to be rescued, and then when it was convenient, all of a sudden she not only embraced being a witch, which she had busy been denying the entire book (one of the reasons she was jealous of her little sister was that her mother favoured Dill for being a witch, but Evey was not), but she was incredibly powerful out of nowhere. The book tried to use this magical device to explain her sudden power and her adeptness at using it, but it seemed more like a cheap explanation at odds with Evey telling us for the entire book that she wasn’t a witch. It didn’t go into any detail on how the magic was used, nor what Evey did to use it. Just bam! She’s a witch now, and kicking butt.

Besides, for most of the book, witches acted as wise women and healers, so having Evey use actual magic seemed out of place. The book seemed to be saying that women were persecuted and just accused of being witches by other jealous women, or as scapegoats for men, but it was also made clear that magic was a real thing witches could do/have access to, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to be saying except that women are at the mercy of men who are terrible.

Also, Evey had no plan for the entire book. It was supposed to be about her getting revenge for the murder of her mother, but she had no plan. She also kept telling the bad guys looking for her exactly who she was. And it’s not like she had zero sense of self-preservation: she knew when to run. But she kept going,  “I am the person you seek!” to the witch hunters. WHY. WHY DID SHE DO THAT. She didn’t have a plan! She didn’t plan to get captured. She didn’t plan to kill anyone. She was improvising the whole time, and everything turned out great for her. Even when she was supposed to be in disguise, and she’s like, LOOK, HERE I AM, she had no plan. It was Anne that saved her butt most of the time.

Anne literally came out of nowhere, fought a man to the death for a girl she didn’t even know, then they were BFF, like, instantly. She always came to the rescue. She provided Evey with everything she needed: first aid, transport, shelter, reputation, connections. Evey just kind of floated through this book while Anne did all the hard work. I sometimes felt as if the book would have been better told from Anne’s point of view.

Also, Evey and Anne are totally gay and I will not enter into discussions that say otherwise. I know I literally wrote a blog post a few weeks ago arguing not to ship every straight relationship into a gay one, but these two were clearly gay and into each other, I was just waiting for them to kiss.

Gemma Whalen did a really good job narrating this audiobook, and I think her soft West Country accent (not sure if she’s putting it on or if it’s natural, she was that consistent with it and also she’s a brilliant actress) helped me digest the scrappy, vague, context-less writing style.

Overall I think this is a book that you might want to check out a preview for, borrow from a library, or read a page in a bookshop before committing to.


About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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