Thursday 30 January 2014

Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Title: Born Wicked
Author: Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: Putnam Juvenille
Published: Febuary 7th 2012
Pages: 330

Goodreads Synopsis:

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.

Yet again, this is another book I have chosen because of it's popularity in the booksphere. I was particularly excited for this one, not only because I had been wanting to read a witch book for awhile, but also because of the time period it is set in. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and this book is an alternate history story. This story is set in the late 1800s, nearing the start of the early twentieth century. Putting it in context with our real history this book would be set in a time soon after the Salem witch trials as Cate states that in her grandmother's time witches were burned at the stake. As I had wanted to read a book about witches and magic for so long I had high expectations for this one, which were unfortunately not met.

The aspect that disappointed me the most in this story was, in fact, the magic, or should I say the lack of magic. For a story about witches this book has very little actual magic in it, apart from a scene near the end of the book. I would even describe the magic as quite boring - the most interesting thing to happen being a garden blooming to life or Cate moving an object through the air with difficulty. There is also very little explanation behind the magic and it appears that only women have these gifts.

So, the magic wasn't the main attribute focused on in this story, what was?...The romance (I know right, shocking!). When I picked up this book I wanted to read a book full of witchy goodness not a book about a love triangle, which happened to be the most boring "love story" I had ever read. I was not particularly enamoured with either of the love interests, one of them was purposefully made out to be a little bit sketchy and just plain boring, while the other was made out to be the nicest guy you have ever read about but again, boring.

The plot was incredibly predictable which isn't the worst thing when reading YA fiction. However, the lack of originality was the problem for me. It followed the usual plot of YA stories: female protagonist must fight against the oppressive system in order to save those she cares about. Parents are MIA, mother is dead and father is always away. The main character is involved in a love triangle, and ultimately cannot be with the one she loves because of the oppressive society she lives in and so we wait to find out what happens in the next two books to resolve this. OK, I loved Delirium and it followed a similar plot line to this, along with several other books I have enjoyed but there has always been some saving grace, such as the characters or the world-building, that has redeemed the book in my eyes. The characters in this book did not do that for me.

The three sisters are each stereotyped into one role that they play throughout the novel, leaving absolutely no room for character growth which is something I love to read about. Tess, the youngest, is the genius of the family, who is good at, literally, everything. Not only is she the most intelligent, musically gifted and the best at magic, she is also able to read people and understand their true intentions. Then we have the middle sister Maura, and being the middle sister she, of course, is the rebellious one. She is a character who is impossible to like because she causes most of the problems in the story and she is a complete and utter spoiled brat. Finally, we have Cate, the eldest, so naturally she plays the protective older sister role. She is your typical YA female protagonist who does not understand how beautiful/talented she really is. She puts everyone else in front of herself, and is the martyr of the story.

Now, before I bash this story altogether (which was not my intention but I tend to go off on rants), there was one aspect to this book that I did enjoy and that was the issue that was tackled. I love when a book, especially in YA because I feel it is quite rare, tackles serious issues. This book deals with the issues of inequality between men and women. This story is set in a time where (in real history) women lived in a patriarchal society; the women were completely controlled by men and their place was seen to be in the home. At the time the main objective of a woman was to find a husband and to be a good wife and mother. These are all aspects that feature in this story. Cate's impending intention ceremony is one such example. Cate must either have a marriage proposal or chose the Sisterhood (basically similar to the nuns) before her seventeenth birthday or the Brotherhood will chose a husband for her. Women are not allowed to run businesses and are looked upon unfavorably if they do, e.g. Finn's mother. The fear men had of women is excellently portrayed in the book. Not only were the Brotherhood afraid of the real witches they also feared women who didn't rely on men, such as women who had relationships with other women, women who ran their own business' and woman who acted too mush like men "aping" their clothing and what not. Women who "refused to submit to man's authority" were punished (quote from Maura on p.38, line 20-23). Another interesting aspect was how Spotswood refers to the Arab women as the free women of society, allowed to run businesses and wear trousers, a clear role reversal as strict Muslim women do not run business nor wear trousers and must cover up from head to toe.

While I did not love the story, and found the plot and characters unoriginal I loved the discussion on the role of women in this story and that is why I give this book a rating of:

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