Review of The Winter Witch – Book 2 of The Shadow Chronicles by Paula Brackston

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This was one of the books I scooped up at Fantasycon this year and then went on to read it after Himself recommended it. Although it clearly is labelled as Book 2 in the series, it read like a standalone and I certainly didn’t find I was floundering in any way through not having read The Witch’s Daughter.

winter witchIn her small Welsh town there is no one quite like Morgana. Her silence – and the magic she can’t quite control – makes her a magnet for ill rumour. When she marries a widower from the far hills, Morgana feels freedom for the first time in her life. But a dark force soon challenges her happiness…

And that’s as much of the blurb as I’m prepared to use, as the next slice runs into spoiler territory. Set in the 19th century, this story is a dual narrative with Morgana’s viewpoint in first person (I) and Cai, her husband, having his story told in third person (he). This has the effect of giving Morgana a more vivid, immediate voice, which is just as well as she doesn’t speak. We learn during the book why this is so – and exactly just what consequences her lack of magical control has.

Brackston depicts life in Wales in enjoyable detail that drew me into the story. I particularly liked the livestock drive to London – having lived for several years in a small village in Somerset that used to be one of the starting places for driving geese to the capital, I know what an important business these journeys were. And yet, it is a slice of our history that seems to have been lost. It was great to read a convincing account of one of these journeys within the storyline.

Morgana’s mutism could have been a real pain, getting in the way of the narrative pace and causing unnecessary problems for Cai and Morgana’s relationship to progress. Fortunately, Brackston is far too technically accomplished to allow that to happen and because we are inside Morgana’s head, we know exactly what she feels. Her wildness and sense of difference is well drawn and allows the reader to empathise with her. Again, it could have been an issue that created too much distance between the reader and the character, but Brackston managed to negotiate this possible pitfall without sliding into it. Clearly an experienced and confident writer.

So, any grizzles? Well, I have to admit to slight sense of anti-climax when I realised exactly who the antagonist is and what their motives are. We learn this a fair distance from the ending – and I did wonder if Brackston was going to produce another twist to further hook us into the story. She didn’t. Judging by many of the other reviews, the kinks in the relationship between Cai and Morgana and the terrible deprivation they endure is sufficient narrative tension to keep everyone engrossed until the end. But, I did anticipate the ending by a fair way and feel that the last plot twist should have been delayed further. However this is a personal preference – and doesn’t take away from this book being an enjoyable, accomplished read and if your taste runs to well depicted historical romance with an added slice of fantasy, then hunt down The Winter Witch – you’re in for a treat.
8/10

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