Welcome to another book review! This time I'm reviewing the first two books in the series Wicked by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié. First of all, the reason why it's the first two is that I bought the version containing two books in one volume, and after reading both I can see why they were put together, as it's difficult to point out where one left off and the next begun when thinking back to the overall plot.
Author: Nancy Holder, Debbie Viguié
Country: United States
Genre: fantasy, YA fiction
Publication date: 2002
Why I Read It
Not long ago I read the series Wicca by Cate Tiernan, which I absolutely loved - it's the story of a girl who, when the new boy in town invites a group of friends to start a coven, realises she is a blood witch and a highly powerful one at that. The series, which spans an impressive 15 books, sees her discover the extent of her powers, find out about the Wiccan faith and learn spells and rituals. She vanquishes foes again and again, while also dealing with the issues her heritage creates within her close family. While not the best written books I've ever read, I loved the story and the subject matter, and for that reason I would highly recommend them to anyone who likes witchcraft with a healthy dose of real life. So when I saw the first two books of Wicked at a secondhand book sale and read the blurb, I assumed it was likely to be something similar to Wicca and bought it with very little hesitation.
What I Thought
Holly Cathers is just your average 17-year-old girl, when her parents and best friend are killed in a boating accident, her best friend's mum is critically injured and she gets packed off to Seattle to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins, of whose existence she hadn't previously been aware. Gradually she realises that all the accidents happening to her are the work of something darkly ancient and highly evil - thanks to some confusing flashback passages which take place in medieval France, the reader soon catches on that there is a connection of sorts between her and her ancestor, Isabeau of the Cahors. It's down to Holly and her cousins to realise their powers and keep the attacks at bay, as they battle against time to stop history from repeating itself.
As the plot goes, that's pretty much it, and I have to say even my sketchy review makes it sound a lot more gripping than it really is. When I started reading 'Witch', I had high expectations as the beginning was punchy and intriguing, but it turned out to be one of the few novels I've read where the beginning is better than the rest of the story. As the book dragged on, I found it increasingly difficult to keep track of what was happening, which wasn't helped by the fact that the point of view from which the story is told was constantly changing. First we have Holly Cathers, orphan and victim of magical attacks; then it switches to Michael Deveraux, a dark warlock who just happens to be having an affair with Holly's aunt Marie Claire; next Jeraud Deveraux takes the stage, he's Michael's son and feels a soul-deep connection to Holly. Amanda and Nicole, Holly's cousins, also have their moments, as do Eli (Jeraud's brother) and Marie-Claire. 'Curse' has even more characters, which I won't even go into here. But with all these characters on the go, things soon started to get messy - and that's not even mentioning the frequent passages which took place in 15th century France. I'm not saying that books like this don't work, but it does require a skilled writer to manage all the different viewpoints and also keep the plot going, which sadly wasn't the case for Wicked.
There's a lot I could say about the quality of the writing, but I'll try and keep it short. To begin with, I have rarely read any work of fiction in which the action is quite so poorly narrated, to the point that it made it quite tricky to follow what was going on. The bit I found most disappointing was the part in between Holly finding out she was a witch, and pretty much the rest of the book - I'd been looking forward to detailed explanations of rituals, runes and traditions, as well as more witchcraft-related history, but Holly and her cousins learning how to use their powers is covered in a few pages, and they all seem to master various spells without a problem. The amount of spontaneous, syncronised chanting was beginning to annoy me; I like books to keep it real, and I just wasn't convinced by a group of friends suddenly knowing the words to a chant they'd never even heard before. The connection Holly has with her ancestor, Isabeau, is used a way round explaining such details, as the authors just write "Holly could feel Isabeau's spirit guiding her, and she knew in the depths of her soul what she had to do"- or something along those lines. This works reasonably well, until the point where it's overused and it seems like Holly can't think for herself. I also felt that Holly's grief over losing her parents wasn't all that well-written, as being only child who has also lost her best friend in a tragic accident and nearly drowned in said accident, you might think she would be a little more traumatised about the whole ordeal - but after a week or so she seems to fully recover, and goes straight into battling warlocks and ancient evils, with only the odd thought for her dead parents. Neither was I wholly impressed with the villains of the story, the ancient house of Deveraux. While the general ambiance in their gloomy mansion was atmospheric enough, I found it hard to take the characters themsevles seriously, which, looking back, I think was down to the humourous edge to the authors' writing. As the two families are descended from two magical houses from the middle ages, situated in France, there are quite a few words and phrases in French, and although none of these are longer than a sentence, I couldn't help noticing at least two grammatical or spelling mistakes - which is disgraceful for a published work of fiction, in my opinion.
I did actually enjoy Witch and Curse overall, despite the above criticisms - it was just one of those books where I tended to notice the faults more than the good points. Am I going to read the next books in the series? Unfortunately I think this is one of the rare times in my life where I'm going to say so, I won't.