Synopsis from Goodreads:
An ancient and dangerous power is being handed down from mother to daughter through some of the most consequential historic events of the last two centuries.
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew.
From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
A compelling tale of the woman of the Orchiére line, I quickly became intrigued by the story. A Secret History of Witches has a different take on magic, it’s a pagan magic and not everyone has the ability and some have the gift stronger than others. I enjoyed the way the story started with Nanette and then told the story of each new generation of women going through history and telling us about the time period so that it was like reading an historical novel as well as a family saga.
The story is told from the viewpoint of these women: Nanette, Ursule, Irene, Morwen, and Veronica. I did not like Irene, she is self-serving and didn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. However where Irene was selfish and had no care for anyone else Veronica cared enough to be involved with helping people during the war. Each woman’s story did seem very similar and writing this review it’s hard to remember who is who because of this.
I liked the different take on magic, however I felt that they were only really doing magic for personal gain and that each generation seemed to make the same mistakes, they never learnt. I would’ve thought that magic would’ve been a prominent part of this tale but it was more about the people and how they discovered they were witches and about the problems it brought them.
I hoped that something would happen with the magic, or that they’d go back to where their ancestors came from. Right at the start of the novel we’re told about Grandmére Ursule and how she gives her life to save her tribe, they bury her there with her staff. I thought it would’ve been great if one of her descendants went back and retrieved it and then maybe revived magic. But that didn’t happen. I suppose that’s what makes this story realistic, the characters not being perfect and making mistakes, that the world always prevents them from being who they truly are. It’s magic in a realistic world, not magic in a fantasy world. It’s a shame because I’ve read a lot of books about witches lately that seem to be too realistic, like they’re too afraid to be fantastical. But the author wasn’t afraid to be fantastical about historical facts:
I almost stopped reading this book when the fiction strayed a bit too far into history, sorry to give a spoiler here, but I did not like it when the author brought the Royal Family into the story and decided that the Queen Mother had been a witch. I like historical fiction and don’t mind when people from the past are made into Daemons etc (Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness) but this is modern history and I couldn’t really accept it. I ‘woke up’ from the story and read on only because I was so close to the end and wanted to find out what happened next.
Sometimes I felt that more could’ve been told, that it could’ve been a longer saga but then nothing of note really happens, like I said they never seem to learn and the magic is not as prominent as I’d have liked.
Although I have been negative about this novel I did enjoy it. But felt something was missing, hence the critical comments. I would recommend this novel, I was engaged with the story and characters but after a short time of finishing the book I’m already struggling to recall some of the characters because of how similar their stories are.