A Great and Terrible Beauty meets Cassandra Clare in this spellbinding fantasy.
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship - or an early grave.
Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.
If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood - not even from each other.
A big thanks to Penguin Australia for sending me a review copy of this book!
If you've read my past book reviews, you guys would know straight away how much I love historical novels especially ones set in the Victorian/Edwarian times. Considering this book is a debut novel, the author, Jessica Spotswood, totally knocks it out of the park with her debut BORN WICKED. Combining my love of historical fiction, secretive witches, strict communities and societies, and adding a hint of the power of love and how it alone can change your destiny, I knew this book would be a great start to a wonderful series!
As far as historical times go, we know BORN WICKED takes place in a world where petticoats, governesses, and the prim and proper gentleman are the get-go. But it's also a time period that reminds me of the dystopian kind too, only it's far more magical. And I love that element. Within this newly well-crafted society, a group whom call themselves The Brotherhood have now taken control of this Victorian era America with an iron fist. Once upon a time witches were once in power and they were considered special, educated, and powerful. But since The Brotherhood are the complete opposite - oppressing women's values of education and freedom of speech - they now take charge of deciding a new rule: if anyone is suspected of witchery they will be sent either to prison or to a mental institution.
Cate Cahill and her sisters are considered eccentric because they don't involve themselves in their society as it's expected and are considered outcasts, but what the townspeople don't know is that the sisters are descendants of powerful witches, and since Cate is of age and must decide whether to enter a marriage or join The Sisterhood - this trio of sisters must do everything within their power to save their family for the sake of their unknown secret.
So what did I think? Well, the storyline was fantastic. The pacing may have started out slow - I admit that - but it soon picked up the pace when you learn more about the society the characters live in and boy was it great. While the storyline met with my very high expectations, but what impressed me further was the characters and the core depths you get to see in them. They were all so brilliant in their own way. Take for example Cate Cahill. She is the eldest of her sisters and all the responsibility lays upon her. Since her mother died, leaving her father a widow with three daughters to care for, Cate promised her mother on her deathbed that she would take care of her family and she did a mighty fine job through my eyes. Sure, she might've not been willing to allow her sisters to explore their magics just for fun or be more accepting of them, but she did it to protect her family - to not be discovered by the Brotherhood. Cate was the perfect heroine put in the perfect time period. She was almost lady-like and she had a heart of gold. I loved her to pieces. She might not make perfect decisions at certain times in certain difficult situations, but everything she did . . . she did was for sisters and such dedication is easy to admire.
This now leads me to the love interests of the story. Or rather a love interest, since one is more the lover than the other. You have a boy from Cate's childhood, Paul McLeod, whom has recently returned from his adventures of London and whom intends to marry Cate when her coming-of-age ceremony comes around. I found he was a nice and necessary character to have in a story like this one and I liked him a lot. But then there's the Cahill's new gardener, Finn Belastra, who is more the love interest and what a great love interest at that. Finn is another hottie to add to my I-wish-he-was-my-boyfriend list. Apart from Cate, Finn was my absolute favourite character in the book and being a gardener (not a very good one since Cate seemed to be doing more of the work hehe) and being the son of a bookshop owner, honestly what's not to love about him? Described as being tall, handsome, freckled, and someone who always has a book in hand, I can see many fangals will be soon swooning over this young fellow! You'll love Finn - from his sweetness to his fearlessness. He's perfect!
As for the supporting cast, Cate's two other sisters, Maura and Tess, were the perfect combination to add to this Cahill witchy sister trio. Tess, the youngest sister, I loved in particular. She was sweet and acted so much older than she appears to be, almost as if she was the older sister and not Cate herself. But then there's the sweetly-sour middle child Maura, whom I hated to the very bone. I couldn't believe how selfish she was throughout the book and I wanted her to snap out of it. At times, I understood her actions and what she was going through, especially when it came to Cate not approving magic because all Maura wanted was to explore her birthright legacy. However, what I couldn't accept was her jealousy over her sister Cate. She thought Cate was trying to outsmart her by learning new magic, proving that she alone was the strongest witch of all three . . . when really all Cate has ever thought of was protecting Maura and Tessa. Other than Maura's slight irritration, I loved the supporting characters including Finn's mother who was just as sweet as him, and hell, I even liked the almost-evil-manipulating Elena, the new governess of the sisters, who you will love to hate. They were all so perfect.
Without revealing any spoilers, overall I thought this was a splendid debut novel and I'm looking forward to the sequel now. The cliffhanger alone had me in tears! Literally. Just when I found happiness and excitement coursing through me, the cliffhanger soon came and destroyed my heart with a hammer. It was so very cruel and I'm still recovering. If you enjoy something unique with the right amount of strict societies, historical aspects, captivating magic, and of course forbidden love, then be sure to look out for BORN WICKED when it hits our shelves because it's deliciously divine and will forever put a spell on you!
4 1/2 / 5 stars