Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz

The three Beauchamp women--Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid--live seemingly quiet, uneventful existences. But they are harboring a mighty secret--they are powerful witches banned from using their magic. Joanna can resurrect people from the dead and heal the most serious of injuries. Ingrid, her bookish daughter, has the ability to predict the future and weave knots that can solve anything from infertility to infidelity. And finally, there's Freya, the wild child, who has a charm or a potion that can cure most any heartache.
For centuries - since the Salem Witch Trials - all three women have been forced to suppress their abilities. But then Freya, who is about to get married to the wealthy and mysterious Bran Gardiner, finds that her increasingly complicated romantic life makes it more difficult than ever to hide her secret. Soon Ingrid and Joanna confront similar dilemmas, and the Beauchamp women realize they can no longer conceal their true selves. They unearth their wands from the attic, dust off their broomsticks, and begin casting spells. It all seems like a bit of good-natured, innocent magic, but then mysterious, violent attacks begin to plague the town. When a young girl disappears, they realize it's time to uncover who and what dark forces are working against them.
This is a page-turning, deliciously fun, magical summer read fraught with love affairs, witchcraft, and an unforgettable battle between good and evil. (from publisher's overview)

Thirty-two years ago. . . Oh my gosh!  Has it really been that long?  How can that be?  I'm sure it was just a couple years ago.  I mean, I haven't changed a bit . . . Yes, seriously, thirty-two years ago, during my senior year of high school, I wrote a lengthy paper on the Salem Witch Trials.  My teen reading years focused heavily on Stephen King novels, or anything else that would keep me up reading till the wee hours and then force me to sleep with the lights on.  I was convinced that The Amityville Horror was true!  It said so right on the cover!  So when it came time to choose a topic for my history paper, the Salem Witch Trials were a natural pick.  

All this to say that there is a part of my psyche that leans to the "bizarre" end of the spectrum.  However, that tendency has lain dormant for a lot of years. (Somewhere in my twenties my focus shifted to bodice-ripping romances - less macabre, but still bizarre.)  I have avoided most of the vampire/zombie craze of the last few years and usually skim over reviews of books from that genre.  But something I read in a review (sorry, can't remember where) woke my long-denied whack-o alter ego - enough that I actually bought a copy, and it was worth the money.  (Whew! I hate explaining to that other personality why I wasted money on a bad book.  She's a real kill-joy.)
There is a lot of subtlety in this story.  The town exists in a mist-shrouded, not-on-the-map, maybe-it's-a-mirage kind of way.  The magic is not accomplished with "abra-ca-dabras" or puffs of smoke, but rather with herbs and plants mixed in cocktails, or knots woven from hair and placed under a pillow.  Even the references to that unfortunate incident in 1692 are phrased so that the reader fully understands without Salem ever being mentioned.   It's a very effective writing tool that allows the story to focus on the personal relationships of the three heroines, while maintaining the enchanted ambience.

Sadly, that subtlety slips towards the end of the book.  I understand the marketing strategy behind bringing in characters from Ms. De la Cruz's Blue Bloods YA series and I'm sure to fans of that series it was fun.  But for me, inserting random vampires was like throwing a bucket of ice water on someone in the shower.  It changed the entire tenor of the story.  

The story recovers from that icy jolt and ends with a twist that makes up for it.  I look forward to reading the next installment of this series and hope the sci-fi, vampire episode was a one-time occurance.  

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