Book Review: The Great Witch of Brittany 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 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhook (February 15, 2022)
Length: 448 pages
If you’ve read Louisa Morgan’s A Secret History of Witches, the name Orchiére will sound familiar. There, we first got to meet Ursule, the latest in a long line of women with magic flowing in their veins. Now in The Great Witch of Brittany, readers will get to know the story of her namesake, her legendary great-grandmother.
Born in Brittany, France in the mid-1700s, the original Ursule was the daughter of a fortune-teller, though at this time, the Orchiéres had not produced a witch in generations, leading everyone to believe that magic in the clan was dead. Traveling with their Romani caravan, Ursule would watch as her mother conned gullible customers using false spells and carefully chosen words, but little did anyone know, the spark of magic lives on in our young protagonist, and The Great Witch of Brittany is the multi-part saga that tells of how she grew into her powers.
Still, after Ursule first discovers she has magic, she is forced to hide them, lest they draw the attention of witch hunters who would see her burned at the stake. But for all their caution, Ursule and her mother end up running for their lives anyway, eventually finding safe haven on a goat farm where they work as laborers. As Ursule grows up, she begins dreaming of passing on her gift, and following a brief romance with a blind musician, she gives birth to a daughter, Léonie, who unfortunately has no interest in learning the Romani ways. Luckily, Léonie ends up having six daughters, the youngest of whom is Nanette, mother of the Ursule in A Secret History of Witches.
Thus, it would be accurate to call this novel a prequel of sorts, but the good news is, it also works perfectly fine as a standalone. That said, I also felt that it was very rewarding being able to experience the connection between the two books and seeing how they linked together. As such, even though A Secret History of Witches isn’t a requirement, I would still highly recommend checking it out, either before or after The Great Witch of Brittany, just to have the full picture.
The two books also have many similarities, thematically and in their structure. Both are multi-generational stories, though in The Great Witch of Brittany, we are seeing everything through the eyes of Ursule, in stark contrast to the changing perspectives between the different women in A Secret History of Witches. As a result, I felt the flow here was much improved and a lot less repetitive. Getting the full story from a single perspective also led to more stability and coherence, which could be why I also found this novel so much easier to get into.
Above everything else, the book shines as character study, exploring Ursule as a woman, a daughter, a mother, and a legend. Despite being known as one of the greatest witches to have ever lived, this is the true story of Ursule which shows that she was not always wise, nor was she always responsible with her powers. As a young woman, she was more often than not driven by selfish desires, though in many cases, you could also hardly fault her for wanting so desperately to protect her loved ones. On her journey to self-discovery, she weathers through many mistakes and suffers terrible losses, but somehow always manages to overcome these challenges, emerging stronger and more confident of herself on the other side.
All in all, The Great Witch of Brittany was a simple story, yet extraordinary in its depth and richness, exactly the kind of book I love. Louisa Morgan continues to impress, and hopefully she’ll keep writing more of these “witchy” novels because I really enjoy them!