Sunday, June 19, 2011

Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz

The Beauchamp women, mother Joanna and grown daughters Ingrid and Freya, are witches. Forbidden to use their powers since the Salem witch trials, an inconvenient and unpleasant episode in the history of their kind, they have lived quietly for the last several decades in the tucked away haven of North Hampton, a difficult to pinpoint village on the tip of New York's Long Island. Joanna, an earth mother of sorts, spends her time making things grow. Ingrid, the bookish one, is a librarian. And Freya, a bit of a party girl, tends bar at the North Inn Bar.

Though all three feel constrained by the ban on the use of their powers, still, they live fairly contented lives. But beginning with the day Joanna finds a trio of dead ospreys on the beach (an omen if ever she saw one), each is tempted to begin using her powers. At first they do so quietly and discretely. A love potion here. Help with infertility there. But soon each is practicing her craft openly, willy-nilly and let the consequences be damned.

Meanwhile, strange phenomena begin to stack up, and not only in North Hampton. An unidentified silvery toxin is turning up in waters from New York to Alaska and beyond, poisoning birds and sea life. There are unexplained disappearances, illnesses, and deaths. Freya's impending marriage to soulmate Bran Gardiner is threatened by her strong attraction to his brother Killian, an attraction which is beyond all reason. And, soon enough, the villagers stop seeing the Beauchamp women as providers of necessary services and begin to levy accusations of black magic.

The story itself, though not terribly original, is solid enough. The characters are all likeable and awfully attractive. What keeps Witches of East End from being a truly first-rate example of urban fantasy or paranormal romance is the quality of the writing. This is not to say that Melissa de la Cruz can't turn a lovely phrase or come up with a beautiful and evocative bit of description. However, the narrative is marred by exchanges such as the following (which is, unfortunately, more than typical):

"I love you," he whispered. He was leaning forward so that his head rested on her shoulder and his hands cupped her breasts gently, making her feel warm all over.

"You're not allowed to say that," she said. "I told you. Nothing's going to change. I'm still going to marry Bran in September." She bit her lip.

"Don't do this to us," Killian warned, gripping her shoulder tightly.

"There is no us, Killian. There never was."

Hackneyed writing aside, the novel does take a turn for the interesting toward the end, when previous hints of Norse mythology become full-fledged references, indicating that there might be more to the Beauchamps and their world than the reader previously knew. Witches of East End ends on a cliffhanger which, although my enjoyment of the book was superficial at best, did leave me mildly interested to learn what comes next.

It should be noted, finally, that although Melissa de la Cruz has previously published a popular series of young adult novels, Witches of East End is definitely intended for a more mature crowd. There are a goodly number of explicit sex scenes, which young adult readers might enjoy but their moms probably wouldn't approve of. I'm just saying.

If you liked the Nordic gods and goddesses that crop up in the last quarter of the book, I recommend checking out the far superior American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The man updates folklore for contemporary times like few others writing today (and frequently writes like an angel).


Jennifer O. said...

I've been wondering about this one, especially bc of the similarity of this title and the Updike one.

Thanks for the recommendation of Gaiman's American Gods. I read his The Graveyard Book and enjoyed it.

Rebecca Glenn said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I was toying with mentioning the similarity of this titles to Updike's (like the Gaiman, a far superior work, even if it's not one of Updike's best), but decided that one unfavorable comparison to another work was enough in the review.

American Gods is a really, really good book. In fact, I'm thinking of giving it another read. (And I just saw--maybe in Entertainment Weekly--that HBO is going to do a miniseries of it. Cool.)

Jennifer O. said...

Really?! Crap..I'm going to have to get a subscription if that's the case...

I started reading it last summer and it was so good, and so dense that I was reading no more than a few pages a day. Before I knew it, I was out of renewals at the library.

I need to bite the bullet and just buy it.

I haven't read Updike's Witches, but I did see the movie and thought it was hilarious, but also very sobering in terms of relationships and what women think they want out of men.

Sammy Sutton Author said...

Nice honest review, sounds interesting.

Thanks for sharing, I enjoy your Blog!


EnriqueFreeque said...

That excerpt from the book you shared certainly doesn't leave me feeling warm all over. That's just plain ... embarrassingly bad. Where is her editor at times like those?