A witchy book for Halloween always gets me excited. I still recall one of my favourites from last year, The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, which tells the story of a very fun group of witches. It was this excitement that I brought to Big Little Spells by Hazel Beck, the second in a series about this particular group of a powerful witch family living in St. Cyprian, the official town of witches. It’s deemed a romantic comedy, but I have to respectfully disagree on that one, as there wasn’t much LOL’ing for either the reader or the characters.
Told from the first-person perspective of Rebekah Wilde, a witch that was banished from St. Cyprian ten years ago by the ruling coven Joywood, this is the story of her return home. Rebekah is asked to return by her sister Emerson (also a witch) when she learns that they must be put through another test of witch strength by Joywood, essentially it’s a second chance to practice magic legally in their area. But Joywood are desperate to keep their rule over St. Cyprian, and this test is brutally difficult, humiliating, and rigged. The two sisters ask Nicholas Frost for help, the powerful and sole immortal living in St. Cyprian who is strong enough to defeat the Joywood. Nicholas was actually Rebekah’s secret tutor when she was a teenager, and she had a desperate crush on him then. As they begin to work together again (her now of legal age), the chemistry between them is reignited, and Rebekah’s goal of passing Joywood’s test becomes secondary to something she’s even more interested in – winning over the cold and moody Frost.
I struggled with a few things in this book, but many of my complaints are my personal objections so other readers may not feel the same way I did. My biggest issues was that the voice of the novel is very busy; Rebekah has lots of emotional baggage from being banished from St. Cyprian and she’s constantly referring to her ‘growth’ from that experience. Every interaction or sentence spoken is accompanied by a paragraph of her thoughts or her reasoning for saying what she did, most often including little quips or sarcastic remarks which I found tiresome after the first few chapters:
“My father loves a Healer when he needs to be healed, of course. But witches can be as snobby as anyone else. Maybe more so, because we live longer and can summon our ancestors to personally teach us what they hated. Hashtag not all witches, etc., but for some, there is always a divide between the more intellectual designations and what my father has been known to call the blue collar witches.”-p.135 of Big Little Spells by Hazel Beck
It’s difficult to pinpoint why, but I can only describe Rebekah’s voice as too much. I was expecting a smoother narration and a plot-driven novel, but instead we’re faced with an over-analyzing witch battling an existential crisis.
The magic that’s woven throughout the book is a fun element to the storyline that I really enjoyed, one of note being the animal ‘familiars’ that are assigned to each witch. Rebekah’s familiar is a black cat named Smudge, a sassy creature that makes only a few appearances, but turned out to be easily my favourite character. The running joke that cats are snobby jerks who bow to no one is epitomized by Smudge and its fabulous self.
Because this is the second in the series, there is a whole book prior to this that provides pivotal world building and context to St. Cyprian, which I definitely missed out on. There are references to lots of previous events that I couldn’t follow, so I often felt lost or frustrated when I couldn’t keep up. Many of my frustrations as a reader can be traced to the fact that Rebekah felt like she was constantly living in the past; referring to it, trying to escape it, or simply trying to make sense of it. For followers of this series, this may not be an issue, but I definitely don’t recommend jumping into book two the way I’ve done.
I’m torn as to whether I would genuinely recommend this novel to others. On one hand, I really hated the narration and protagonist, but on the other, I can see this appealing to others who have taken the time to read the first in the series, and are no doubt chomping at the bit to read this second. The romantic storyline is fun, but not a lot of opportunity for laughs or comedy.