Title: The Orphan Witch
Author: Paige Crutcher
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: September 28, 2021
One Sentence Summary: Persephone has always been strange and alone, until a friend asks her to come to Wile Isle and she discovers she might be the key to breaking a curse.
The Orphan Witch is a lovely witchy read full of powerful women on different sides who often create problems of their own. Their cursed home, Wile Isle, is full of magic and history and so much left unsaid to Persephone May. With the 100th anniversary of the curse descending on them, feelings and beliefs are heightened, with much of it centered around Persephone, who has been so lonely her entire life and who only dreams of finding home and family. While the story itself was, overall, a bit simplistic, the characters were really interesting and the island and its history really shone. Parts of this story were sweetly bittersweet and others were just some really beautiful moments and some were actually a bit nutty. Overall, it’s a fun witchy read focused on the women and finding family.
Abandoned as an infant and raised in the foster care system, Persephone May has been alone her whole life. What’s worse is, when she looks someone in the eye, their behavior shifts, often in a terrible self-destructive way. She’s had too many jobs and too many homes. But, while at a former job, she met Hyacinth, who now frequently asks Persephone to come and visit her on Wile Isle.
When another disaster ends her employment at a coffee shop, Persephone decides it’s the perfect time to head for the isolated isle and see her friend. Except it’s not just a visit. The isle is cursed and Persephone is different for a reason. She might also be the only one who can break the nearly 100 year old curse on the isle, especially since the island is now closed and no one can leave.
As soon as I saw this book, something about it snaked it’s way around my heart and I knew I had to read it, and special thanks to the publisher for sending me a finished physical copy. Not only does Persephone share a name with my favorite goddess, but The Orphan Witch has magic, a remote island, and a curse, and loneliness is something I can relate to. I loved reading Persephone’s journey. From having no one to finding a family and purpose, I can’t say I was thrilled by the ending, but it all did fit absolutely perfectly and I couldn’t have wished for a better story for Persephone.
I really liked Persephone. She wanted so desperately to fit in, to find someone she could actually share eye contact with, to find a home and family. My heart really felt for her, especially when so many magical things happened around her and she had no one to turn to. On Wile Isle, she was constantly pulled this way and that by the magic of the island, so it sometimes felt like she didn’t have much agency. But she still tried so hard, worked so hard, loved so hard. It was easy to see how torn she was by the two pairs of witchy sisters, who also happen to be cousins, living on the isle. I didn’t like that the story seemed to jerk her around and I had hoped for a different ending for her, but, in reflecting on it, it really did suit her.
Along with Persephone, there are so many powerful women. There’s Hyacinth and Moira, who take Persephone under their wings and teach her. They’re very different from each other and have their own faults and insecurities, but I loved how Moira felt so stately and stable, bristly and soft. Then there’s Ariel and Ellison. Early on there’s tension between them and Persephone, and a lot of lack of information and a lot of jumping to conclusions. It creates an interesting tension between all the cousins, which was fun considering they’re all witches with different powers. I really liked how The Orphan Witch really focused on the women, even if it did feel like this was more plot-driven.
I really appreciated the light hand with the romance between Persephone and Dorian. As the only possible love interest for Persephone on the island, it was predictable, but Dorian’s circumstances made things complicated. He was such a fascinating character and I really enjoyed reading about him and the library he was trapped in. Their relationship was a bit thorny, but so much fun.
Wile Isle is such a magical place, and it’s not even confined to the island. The population is so small and most of the present day inhabitants don’t even have powers, so it really focused on the witchy cousins. It made the island feel almost claustrophobic as there seems to literally be no way to get off. With Persephone’s special powers, the landscape tended to ripple. It was fascinating to explore the island in different time periods. Though I think the library has to be my favorite place. It felt fully sentient and I loved how it was constantly moving and shifting. Everything about the island felt magical and, with the 100th anniversary of the curse closing in on them, the air seemed to crackle with it. There’s so much history to this place and the people that it came alive in my mind and I loved feeling like I was there.
The Orphan Witch has strong characters and a charming, if cursed, setting, but the story felt a little predictable and simplistic. It all revolves around breaking a curse with some characters wanting it and others feeling it better left alone. Overall, there wasn’t much tension, but I did like how some of the characters really tried to take matters into their own hands, not always to the best effect. I did feel the story overtook all the other elements most of the time, which made it seem like the characters, especially Persephone, were being dragged all over the place and back and forth. But I think the strength is really in how the world was crafted with a strong history and background on which the characters could really deal with the matters at hand.
The Orphan Witch is a truly witchy read with powerful women and not so powerful women and each of them having different powers. It turns out to be more witch against witch than anything else, but I really liked the ending, even if I had wished for a different one. It was quiet and soft, but then much of the story felt like the edges had been softened. The tension was nicely wound through despite the predictability. I do wish the story had been more complicated, more layered, and maybe have a few more characters, but, overall, it was a charming read full of magic and discovering a family.
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Thank you to the publisher for a physical review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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