“Brittany, 1821. After Grand-mere Ursule gives her life to save her family, their magic seems to die with her.
Even so, the Orchieres fight to keep the old ways alive, practicing half-remembered spells and arcane rites in hopes of a revival. And when their youngest daughter comes of age, magic flows anew. The lineage continues, though new generations struggle not only to master their power, but also to keep it hidden.
But when World War II looms on the horizon, magic is needed more urgently than ever – not for simple potions or visions, but to change the entire course of history.”
My Thoughts: Witches. What woman has not been called a witch in the course of her life, often for nothing more than standing up for herself or expressing a dissenting opinion? Strong, intelligent, and independent women have always made men uncomfortable for as long as the patriarchal society reigns supreme. In A Secret History of Witches, no one knows this truth more than the Orchiere women.
What is compelling about the Orchiere women is their acceptance of their powers through the generations and the differences one generation can make when it comes to personality. For each teenage girl just learning about the matriarchal history, there is a mother with a different agenda. The familial relationships – strained, close, and everything else in-between – are the strongest sections of the story, as they show that sometimes no matter what you do, your children will follow their own path. The use of the passage of time is also quite interesting. Each generation has a differing opinion of magic and a varying level of acceptance of her powers, but this acceptance does not necessarily diminish as time progresses. Modern does not always mean one scoffs at magic. There could almost be a separate study on the events of the time versus the character’s acceptance of her powers; I can see this as a potential book club discussion point.
The remainder of the novel follows a fairly repetitive format with a story that is as familiar as it is comforting. Like many a fairy tale, some of the stories have a happier ending than others. All provide some form of life lesson, and all reiterate the idea that men are not comfortable around independent and strong-willed women. This latter message is disheartening for rather than encouraging women to stand tall and be proud of who they are, the message of the Orchiere women is to hide who they are and always defer to the men in their lives. This is not quite the message I want to pass along these days.
Educational A Secret History of Witches is not, but it is entertaining and harmless, for the most part. I do wish those strong-willed Orchiere women who failed to kow-tow to the men had happier endings. It is such a slight thing, and yet anything that perpetuates the norm these days is questionable. The idea of witches has always been a threat to the patriarchy, and Ms. Morgan fails to capitalize on that threat by showing that a family that hides to survive but loses their independent identity in the process.