Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood


Title: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Publisher: G. P. Putnam

ISBN: 978-0399257452


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Blessed with a gift…cursed with a secret.

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.


When I signed up for this book tour, I wasn’t expecting to receive a review copy, so I was delighted when one appeared in my mailbox.  After reading the introductory letter written by Arianne Lewin,  Executive Editor at G P Putnam, I was even more excited to dive into the book.  I haven’t read many YA books set in the 1800s, let alone an alternate New England.  I love reimagined time periods, so Born Wicked had me intrigued.  I was a tiny bit skeptical that it would be worthy of all of the gushing praise, but once I started reading, I could not stop.  I was totally sucked into Cate’s world from the first page.  I immediately felt sympathy for her.  I immediately connected with her plight.  Here is a young woman, still grieving for her mother, who has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  No wonder she seems to be so joyless and stern at first.  She is scared to death that if her sisters’ secret is exposed, she will lose them, too.

Cate’s mother was a witch.  Cate and her two younger sisters are witches, as well.  In their New England of the 1890s, being a witch is a terrible crime.  The Brothers firmly keep control of the populace, swiftly doling out punishments when they discover behavior contrary to their stern teachings.  Suspected witches are imprisoned in a mental hospital or sentenced to hard labor on a ship, or worse; they simply disappear.  Women are second-class citizens in Cate’s society.  They must be ever vigilant against the evil influences of suspected witches, and upon their majority, they must declare their intention before God and the members of their church.  Girls only have two choices; to marry, or to join the Sisterhood.  If a girl doesn’t know which she prefers, the Brothers make the decision for her.  Ugh!

In this grim setting, Cate not only has to worry about her own future, she has her sisters to worry about.  Unlike Cate, they are chafing to use their magic, and they aren’t always discrete about it.  In a world where being a witch can prematurely and very unpleasantly end your life, Cate is stressed about about everything.  Not even her father knows their secret.  Cate was made to promise to keep their secret and to keep Tess and Maura safe at her mother’s death bed.  She takes her promise very, very seriously, because she understands the consequences of their discovery.  She has heard about the girls who have been disappearing, either sent to the insane asylum or simply vanishing without a trace.  She is terrified that they will be next.  In addition to this burden, she also has romantic entanglements to work out.  This is one love triangle that actually didn’t grate on my nerves, and I am so curious to see what happens with it in the next book.

I thought the stark, stifling world of this New England was fascinating.  The Brothers control just a sliver of this alternate North America – other stronger, more progressive countries control the rest.  The borders are kept firmly closed against outsiders.  Books and manuscripts are regularly banned and burned.  Not following the teachings of the Brothers gets you labeled a deviant, and puts you at the mercy of their cruel punishments.  Women are always treated more harshly than men, and even the simplest of infractions can lead to disaster.

I could not put this book down.  I thought about it when I was forced to do something else.  I counted the hours until I was free to pick it up again.  The characters charmed me, especially Cate and her sisters.  Their interactions were as complicated and compelling as their relationships.  The younger girls don’t understand Cate’s reluctance to use and learn about her magic.  They don’t understand her fury when they carelessly weave spells where others might see them.  While it is obvious to see how much they love each other, it is also painfully obvious to see how Cate’s rules are going to tear them apart.  Cate’s greatest nightmare is only an eye-blink away, but the tighter she tries to control Maura and Tess, the faster the time bomb starts ticking.  With three powerful witches in the same house, struggling to exert control over themselves, it was only a matter of time before something awful happened.  And happen it did, with exploding glass, splintering furniture, and an emotional chasm that will take more than a hug to mend. 

I found Born Wicked to be a unique read; I don’t think I have read anything else quite like it.  Jessica Spotswood took the usual paranormal tropes and twisted them up into something new and wonderfully compelling.  YA tropes that normally drive me nuts kept me firmly engaged in the story, wondering what would happen next.  The character development kept me enthralled, too.  While I would never call Cate a carefree kind of girl, she does begin to accept herself and to open up to others, which made her an even more sympathetic character for me.  When she kept herself isolated, she was taking the chicken exit; without putting herself out there, without accepting any emotional risk, she came across, at first, as a stunted, immature girl.  As she began to take emotional risks, she began to blossom into a believable, likeable young woman.

So, do I have any gripes about Born Wicked?  Yup, only one.  It’s part of a series, and it is going to be a long, long wait for Book 2!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by {teen} book scene

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