Book Review: Born Wicked

Thursday, April 5, 2012
As a teenager, even before the sweeping Harry Potter phenomenon, I always gravitated toward fantasy literature. As a result, the book shelf in my childhood bedroom is stuffed full of tomes by Tamara Pierce, Patricia Wrede, Jane Yolen, and, of course, J.K. Rowling. If it has witches, wizards, and dragons in it, I'm all over it.
So I was pretty excited when my copy of Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, arrived.

This debut young adult novel follows the tumultuous journey of 16-year-old protagonist, Cate Cahill, to adulthood. Since her mother's death, Cate's taken on the responsibility of mothering her two younger sisters, a task that would be difficult even if the three weren't witches. The family lives in New England at the turn of the 20th century, but for some, yet to be explained reason, the Cahills' world is drastically different than the world historically was at that time. New England is ruled by a heavy-handed religious authority, the Brotherhood. When young women reach age 17, they must either marry or join the female religious order, the Sisterhood. Being a witch in this world means imprisonment . . . or worse.

This first book of the Cahill Witch Chronicles (a trilogy) holds all the elements you might expect in a YA fantasy novel. There's a prophecy, danger, a love triangle, and an overbearing governess. The dialogue moves along at a snappy pace and although I felt that Spotswood was guilty of holding back a little too much "illuminating" information in the book's beginning, despite the ambiguous start, I did come to like the main characters quite a bit.  

One of the most confusing things about the book to me was why the book is set in a drastically altered "real world." India and Dubai are mentioned in the book, but it's clear that New England is cut off from the rest of the United States, if there even is a United States in Cate's world. New London (Connecticut?) is the commerce hub in the books, rather than Boston, which seems like the obvious choice. I'm sure Spotswood has her reasons, but it's not explained at all in the first book and unless she plans to turn the books into a deep and remarkable commentary on world politics, I'd have preferred she'd set the story in a whole new made-up world. Some of the most compelling arguments I've heard again communism and racism were set in novels with completely imagined realities.

Born Wicked certainly doesn't have the depth of say, Philip Pullman's Golden Compass books and I'm not sure it will have the broad appeal of the Twilight series. (Although, having never read the Twilight books, I can say for sure.) But it's a rollicking quick read with loveable characters and I'll probably pick up the next books to see just how things end up for Cate and Co, especially since this first book ended on a cliffhanger.

And when I say cliffhanger, I mean cliffhanger. 

You can join in the conversation about Born Wicked over at the BlogHer Book Club.

Disclosure: I participated in this review for the BlogHer Book Club. I was compensated for my time and received a complimentary copy of the book. However, all opinions expressed in the review are my own.


  1. Hmm, I'd totally read it just because her name is Cate ;-)

  2. Hmm, I think I will go for the golden compass books, as newcomer I have to read and learn so much.

  3. It sounds like an interesting read despite the alternative reality. I just wish I had more time for reading!

    xo Mary Jo

  4. My coworker just lent me the Hunger Games which I'm excited to read- but first I have to finish the Passion of Artemisia, Ali in Wonderland, and Appointment in Samarra... a little overwhelmed!

  5. I love young adult literature because I teach children up to 13. It's great knowing what kind of things they would possibly like and since most of the kids I work with have reading's nice that young adult generally (but obviously not always) has an easier reading level).


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