Book Review: The Witch’s Kind by Louisa Morgan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhook (March 19, 2019)
Length: 448 pages
I confess, I wasn’t sure at first that I was going to read this. My experience with Louisa Morgan’s previous novel A Secret History of Witches was really mixed, and I had concerns that I was going to run into similar issues with The Witch’s Kind, its sort-of spiritual successor. Thankfully though, none of those concerns came to pass. Although this one does contain many of the same ideas, themes, and stylistic elements of Morgan’s first book, it also features a much different kind of story, which—I have no doubt—is why I enjoyed it so much more.
Set in the early-to-mid 20th century, the book follows Barrie Anne Blythe, a young woman raised by her aunt Charlotte following the deaths of her parents. In the aftermath of World War II, the two women have settled on the Pacific Northwest coast, where Barrie owns a small farmstead by the sea. One evening, she notices some peculiar lights over the ocean, but decides to push it from her mind. That is, until the next day, her dog carries home a bundle that it found on the beach. In the bundle, Barrie finds a tiny infant—a very special little girl she names Emma, after deciding to keep and raise the baby as her own. With Charlotte’s help, Barrie devises a plan to explain for Emma’s presence, protecting her foundling child from curious neighbors as well as men from the government who have been poking around town in the wake of the strange lights in the sky.
Interspersed between these chapters taking place in the post-war timeline is also a second narrative, unraveling the events of Barrie’s past beginning from the time of her childhood being raised by Charlotte. In these sections, we watch as Barrie grows into a teen and then a young adult attending college where she meets her future husband Will, followed by her time living as a disaffected wife of a deployed naval corpsman. Eventually, the timelines link up as the story unfolds to reveal how the marriage falls apart, as well as the painful and heartbreaking series of events leading up to Barrie’s move to the farm and her subsequent discovery of Emma.
I have to say The Witch’s Kind was unexpected in a lot of ways. For one, there was a twist in the story and an allusion to elements closer to science fiction than fantasy, which I hadn’t seen coming at all. That said, I didn’t enjoy myself any less because of it. The magical and paranormal aspects were still present and strong, even if the concepts themselves were a bit scattered. And besides, it was mostly the overall riveting quality of the story and the irresistible charms that won me over.
In fact, I’m still feeling a little bowled over by how much I liked this book, considering it contains several of my personal pet peeves. I’ll be going into them later, but first, I want to go into all the things I loved. Foremost of them are the characters, Barrie and Charlotte, who are both strong women who have experienced hardship in their lives. Despite the protagonist being Barrie, my favorite character was actually Charlotte, who is in every way the kind of person you wish you knew in real life. Levelheaded, dependable and caring, even when Barrie was making the stupidest life choices, I loved how Charlotte respected her niece enough to let her make her own decisions and learn from her mistakes but was also always there to support her when she needed help. Their relationship was unquestionable the backbone of this novel, the glue that held all its various parts together.
I also loved the writing. Louisa Morgan is the pseudonym of Louise Marley, who is already an accomplished author of many science fiction and fantasy novels, so I was unsurprised at the level of skill displayed in her prose. I was, however, astonished at how well the framework of story’s dual timelines worked for me. Transitions were handled smoothly in a way that did not detract from the flow, even towards the end of the book when the past started to catch up to the present. I don’t always do well with multiple timelines, but it is how the threads are woven that matters.
As for criticisms, the ones I have are relatively minor, but they still warrant discussion. As I have already mentioned, there’s the disorganized way the supernatural elements were handled. The title of the book notwithstanding, there’s only a light sprinkling of magic and “witchiness” to this story, to the point where it probably wasn’t even necessary. However, the suggestion of aliens and mermaids as well as their possible connections to Roswell were another matter, for these were more relevant to the plot, though ultimately I felt the narrative didn’t quite manage to pull all these ideas together. I was also disappointed in the portrayal of Will, whose character I found completely absurd and over-the-top. I had a similar issue with A Secret History of Witches where the oppressive bigotry and abusive personalities of some of the male characters were overdone to the extreme, making them feel more like caricatures than real people. It also irks me that Morgan’s so-called strong and independent female characters always seem to get bamboozled by the slick talk and good-looking charms of manipulative men. Over and over, Barrie claims to have gotten the true measure of Will after the nth time he treats her like trash, and yet she still can’t seem to stop falling for his obvious tricks, annoying me with her utter cluelessness.
But as I said before, despite its flaws, I still really enjoyed The Witch’s Kind—certainly a lot more than I did A Secret History of Witches. It was a story I found completely engrossing and hard to put down. At the end of the day, I’m very glad I decided it to read it, and I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical dramas about found families or women’s fiction with a touch of the supernatural.