Carolyn MacCullough,
Once a Witch
(Graphia, 2010)

In an extended family of powerful witches, Tamsin alone is powerless. This, despite portents at her birth that she would be the mightiest of them all. Now 17, she is resigned to her fate as a mere mortal when, on a whim, she takes a job -- finding a lost heirloom -- intended for her magical sister and is whisked into an adventure that will span time and bring her into conflict with another, more sinister clan.

Once a Witch is a young-adult, contemporary fantasy novel refreshingly free of vampires and werewolves. And, although Tamsin comes from a magical family, much of her life and many of her interactions are surprisingly normal, from her flirty best friend, Agatha, to her antagonistic, too-perfect sister, Rowena. I'm fairly sure a lot of teen readers will identify with Tamsin's relationship with her parents, too, even if they don't have a gap in magical powers to contend with.

The characters in this novel are especially well drawn. Tamsin in particular is a well-crafted, imperfect protagonist who will resonate with readers who feel cut off from their own families. She is a bit abrasive, yes, but also resourceful, loyal and doesn't whine much about her lot in life, even if she is a touch clueless at times.

Readers familiar with Piers Anthony's A Spell for Chameleon might guess the surprise "twist" early in the book. Otherwise, I can heartily recommend Once a Witch and will look forward to the sequel.

book review by
Tom Knapp

16 April 2011

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