Timy reviews The Great Witch of Brittany, Louisa Morgan‘s standalone novel, set in the same world as A Secret History of Witches.
|Series: standalone||Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: February 15, 2022||Trigger Warnings: death, murder, attempted rape, racism|
|Page count: 426||Publisher: Redhook/Orbit|
Return to the world of A Secret History of Witches with the bewitching tale of Ursule Orchiere and her discovery of magical abilities that will not only change the course of her life but every generation that comes after her.
There hasn’t been a witch born in the Orchière clan for generations. According to the elders, that line is dead, leaving the clan vulnerable to the whims of superstitious villagers and the prejudices of fearmongering bishops.
Ursule Orchière has been raised on stories of the great witches of the past. But the only magic she knows is the false spells her mother weaves over the gullible women who visit their fortune-telling caravan. Everything changes when Ursule comes of age and a spark of power flares to life. Thrilled to be chosen, she has no idea how magic will twist and shape her future.
Guided by the whispers of her ancestors and an ancient grimoire, Ursule is destined to walk the same path as the great witches of old. But first, the Orchière magical lineage must survive. And danger hovers over her, whether it’s the bloodlust of the mob or the flames of the pyre.
“Her clan already viewed her as a misfit, first because she had been silent for so long, and then because, when she did begin to talk, she spoke like a miniature adult. She refused to learn to sew or cook, and preferred to be alone rather than gossip with the other girls. The boys mocked her, trying to make her cry, but she refused. She was small, but her fists were hard and quick.”
It was not really a question of what song I’ll pick. Song of Women by The HU feat. Lzzy Hale. Musically it is probably not the best choice, but I still think it fits really well. I might even pick this book for the prompt based on this song for my The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge.
I’ve been eyeing The Great Witch of Brittany before, but I wasn’t sure it would be up my alley and so I passed it. Until I came across Lynn’s review, who generally has very similar opinions to mine. Her review convinced me to pre-order it and read it the first opportunity I got. What came after was something I absolutely did not expect. I’ve read nearly half of it in a day, which is something that very rarely happens to me these days. I was absolutely hooked from the first page and even when I wasn’t reading all I could think about when I would be able to pick it up again. If I was pressured, I wouldn’t be able to say why it enraptured me so. It definitely was a case of right book at the right time.
When I picked up The Great Witch of Brittany, I had no previous knowledge of any of Louisa Morgan‘s books, although I’m aware that this novel explores the life of a character who played some kind of role in A Secret History of Witches. In case you are concerned, you absolutely don’t need to read that book to fully appreciate The Great Witch of Brittany, although you might feel a strong urge to buy the other book. As I did.
As I mentioned, The Great Witch of Brittany is the story of Ursule Orchiére’s life. We meet her at the age of 13, living with her Rom family, raised by her mother, Agnes, who works as a fortune teller. Their life is not an easy one, but it also has its own kind of magic. Events happening around this time shape her life forever and lead her in every decision she makes throughout her life. This is where she learns about her powers, about witchcraft, but also about the true horrors of life posed by men and those hungry with power and led by religious zeal. But it’s also a life of secrets and stories told by the fire of the witches of old. And it is in their footsteps she walks all her life.
This book’s strength is in the writing, but also in the MC who is easy to identify with. You really can’t help but be fascinated by Ursule and root for her as she tries her best to protect her family. You won’t always agree with her decisions but it’s sure you won’t be able to help but admire her strength, her resolve, her absolute dedication. Even when she knows there will be a price to pay, she still goes ahead with whatever she decided she’ll do. Consequences be damned.
It’s not a book I’d call action-packed or particularly fast-paced, although at the same time I wouldn’t say it drags either. I definitely was turning the pages like there was no tomorrow. Morgan‘s vivid writing just transported me into wherever Ursule was, painting the picture clearly without being flowery or over descriptive. I found Ursule a delightfully complex character, though if I had any criticism, it would be the fact that some of the side characters seemed a bit underdeveloped, especially compared to her. But I loved being swept away by the events in her life and going through the emotions they brought with them. It was like I was sitting by the fire with her family as I listened to her story. It awakened that feeling of wonderment towards stories and books I didn’t feel in a good while. I was really sorry to turn the last page. It’ll be a small miracle if it won’t make it to my best reads of the year list.
The Great Witch of Brittany is a love letter to what it means to be a woman, moreover a witch, especially in those times – late 18th, early 19th century during the fall of the French kingdom. To find one’s place and follow their destiny no matter where it leads. It was also really fascinating to read how her “gypsy ways” collided with Christianity and how it affected Ursule. I could go on singing praises about how much I loved this book, but instead, I’ll just urge you to read it for yourself! It’s a great mix of slice of life, historical fiction, and fantasy, and the perfect escape in these times when we all need to get away from reality for a couple of hours. Just be careful, because it’s addictive.