Moonlight and Stardust

We were keen to start the new year with a light hearted book, nothing too serious which would put us in a glum mood. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna is a book that kept cropping up in various reviews all of last year and it was present in most fantasy top ten book lists at the year end. It seemed like a good read to carry us through the close of the old year and to start the new one.

Mika Moon, in her thirties, is the youngest witch in her secret society of witches that meets once in three months. The one abiding rule of the society, as strictly enforced by their leader and Mika’s erstwhile guardian, Primrose, is that the witches must maintain absolute secrecy about their powers and not congregate unnecessarily. Meetings of witches tend to lead to outbursts of magic and this draws attention. Even though set in modern times, the memory of witch trials, drownings and burnings linger. Mika tends to cause a bit of friction since she runs a popular YouTube channel pretending to be a witch whilst actually being one.

Out of the blue a job offer arrives one day for Mika from Nowhere House, to teach three little witches ranging from 7 to 10 years who require training to harness and control their powers. She decides to accept despite knowing that it would be frowned upon by the society. At Nowhere House Mika meets the denizens, the elderly Ian who had initially approached her, his husband Ken who is Japanese and likes to garden, the cook Lucie and the librarian Jamie. Then there are the three little girls gathered from around the world, each with their own character and magical powers. Mika who has never lived anywhere long enough to grow roots is suddenly in the midst of a family.

The book is ultimately about the importance of human connections and the story is presented with a lot of diversity but it seems too deliberate at times. The novel started off beautifully with Mika making magical teas with wonderful names, moving her greenhouse, koi pond, two cauldrons and one golden retriever in her tiny little car named ‘the broomstick’. She concocts potions in her attic room in Nowhere House by gathering starlight and moonlight and talks about how intuitive the process is. Her relationship with the girls is wonderful in the way they each react to her. Despite being an only child, brought up in isolation Mika has the gumption to deal with each ones idiosyncrasies. The girls themselves are incredibly cute with names like Rosetta, Terracotta and Altamira. Their very different reactions to Mika’s arrival are also dealt with immense affection by the adults around them.

However at the end we felt the novel was a strong spell that fizzled out. It started wonderfully with all the ingredients of a magical realism novel with a lot of heart and funny moments and a pinch of romance but the second half became much more romance and the magic, the magical elements and even the girls were totally overshadowed. We don’t want to say too much about the ending but only that it seemed a little forced. All in all a light hearted book to read more for the first half and the possibilities that it missed in the second..


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