Book Review: A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers
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 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhook (February 11, 2020)
Length: 448 pages
I really enjoyed A Witch in Time, but I’ll say this right off the bat—it’s not going to be for everyone. First of all, if you’re looking for a “witchy” book, with magic and spells and all that jazz, well…this is not going to be it. What we have here is more like a love story, and it’s a strange one at that. Delving into the concept of past lives and predetermined fate, this novel follows three characters and their various incarnations going back for more than a hundred years.
But we first begin the story in the present with Helen, an ambitious journalist working the political circuit in Washington DC. Having recently divorced Roger, a man she’d thought would be her soulmate, Helen is finally feeling up to seeing other people again and is about to sit down to a blind date with Luke Varner. However, she senses a strange familiarity when she really looks at Luke, even though she’s almost certain they’ve never met before. But Luke informs her that, in fact, they are very well acquainted—not in this life, perhaps, but in the past, when she was a different person.
Helen leaves the date convinced that everything Luke told her was nonsense, but that night, she has a series of vivid dreams in which she is Juliet LaCompte, a sixteen-year-old French farm girl in 1895. At the time, Juliet was involved in an affair with Parisian painter Auguste Marchant, with whom she was madly in love. Unfortunately, he did not feel the same way and left her broken-hearted and with child. Juliet’s mother, a hedge witch who dabbled in the dark arts, invoked a curse on Marchant, but inadvertently ended up binding her daughter to the spell as well. A demonic servant, Luke—who was known then as Lucian Varnier—was then roped in as the administrator of the dark pact, and thus the three of them were forever bound. Juliet and Marchant are cursed to reincarnate again and again, and in each life they will fall in love, only to have that love eventually fail spectacularly, with no exception. An immortal, Luke must find each iteration of Juliet to help her remember the events that started it all, and hope that one day they will manage to break this vicious cycle.
As the story progresses, Helen eventually recalls two more past lives, one as Nora Wheeler, a 19-year-old aspiring actress from the 1930s who had moved from New York City to Hollywood in order to become a star. The next is Sandra Keane, a young Los Angeles musician in the 70s who traveled with her band to a remote studio in New Mexico to record their first album. In both lives, the women fell in love with men who were incarnations of Marchant. And both times, Luke was there to see her through the disastrous results. Because Juliet was the daughter of a witch, she had the magic that enabled her to remember the past lives, but the curse also meant that she always died young. Her incarnations never lived past thirty-four, as that was the age Juliet’s mother died when she made her deal with a demon.
So, essentially what we’re getting are four stories in A Witch in Time, each featuring different settings and characters, but they are all trapped in the same pattern cursed to repeat forever. It’s a bizarre structure, but somehow it worked. With each remembered past life, the details are wildly different—and Juliet/Nora/Sandra/Helen all have their own unique personalities, even if they do represent the same person. In fact, this point plays a key role in the novel, as Luke struggles with his feelings for the different versions of Juliet, watching someone he cares for very much die and live again, not knowing what the next cycle will bring. He’s perhaps the most sympathetic character in the book, because he’s the one constant who remembers everything from the past hundred and twenty-five odd years or so. While Helen’s character development feels disjointed because it is punctuated by all her dreams and memories of her past lives, we can track Luke’s motivations through history as he makes mistakes, learns from them, and tries to be a better guardian each time.
There’s also a strong thread of romance here, which I suppose culminates into a love story at the end, but it would still be extremely tough to categorize this book. So often I found myself wanting to immerse myself in its storm of emotions, but at the same time, the novel’s very premise presented a barrier to that. After all, if the characters are always fated to end up in the same position in each life, are the feelings they have truly genuine then?
Yes, it’s a messy situation, which results in a somewhat messy novel. That said, I don’t know if searching for a “point” behind it is the way to go. I personally kicked back and simply allowed the story to take me where it wanted to go, and I enjoyed myself immensely because of it. The stories of Helen’s past lives built upon each other, and with each dream she had, more was revealed. And as I said, each life she lived had its surprising plot twists and interesting developments. As its title suggests, this book was a romp through time, and it was pure delight to visit the different historical eras. What’s more, as we make our way towards the end, the suspense builds as we wonder if Helen will remember everything in time before her predestined death, and whether or not she will have what it takes to break the curse once and for all.
Bottom line, I thought A Witch in Time was refreshingly different—a somewhat unusual but interesting read. I had a good time, which surprised me, since I’m not normally one for stories that are made up of smaller parts stitched together, which pretty much describes this one. I won’t deny there were some missteps, a few details here and there that didn’t hold water, but I suppose that’s typically a consequence when dealing with books like this. It’s not one I would recommend to everyone, but I do urge you to give it a try if the synopsis grabs your attention. At the end of the day, I enjoyed myself, and that’s all that matters.