There are some interesting set pieces and arresting imagery in this modern-day tale of witches on a remote southern island, tied by bonds of blood and love. You definitely get the idea that some of these scenes sprang into Paige Crutcher’s head fully formed, so viscerally and lovingly are they depicted.
Alas, that’s about all I can say to recommend this book. Despite the vividness of certain lovely passages, The Orphan Witch falls apart from sheer lack of craft. I spent every few pages muttering, “That’s not what that word means.” I’m all for poetic license, but one does not “don” silverware when setting the table nor, in a moment of fear and panic, have time to think “reverently” about an engine you’re hoping will catch so you can flee, in just two of the most memorably egregious examples. In fairness, I don’t know what stage of editing this book was in when it was sent to me — hopefully, a very early one! — but just the constant estrangement of vocabulary from meaning made me question the author’s experience both with writing and with reading good fiction.
And that’s even before we get into the plotting and characterization. While I did appreciate the plot twists, I felt like most of the writing that was meant to be the connecting tissue between set pieces wasn’t at all well thought out, and almost hurried through as the author shepherded us from one of her preferred scenes to the next, skipping some sorely needed world-building in the process. And the characterizations were absolutely dire, with immature, borderline idiotic dialog, inexplicable motivations and, at the very bottom of the barrel, an extremely unconvincing instalove romance plot. Every single character was paper thin, and my feelings for them verged from mild irritation to deep annoyance.
The main character was especially grating, tho I suppose she had a reason for being so socially awkward. I just didn’t understand how everyone was so accepting of how terrible she was. Having recently thought very much about power fantasies and the catharsis they bring, I can appreciate the motivation behind writing this book in this way, but that doesn’t at all make it enjoyable or interesting to read. For me, at least, I do sincerely hope it brings others joy and a little escape from their every day.
I hate bagging on books, especially by debut authors, but this was excruciating to read and just really poorly done. I wish Ms Crutcher the best for her future endeavors, and am hoping the quality of her writing will (can?) only improve from here on out.
The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher was published September 28 2021 by St Martin’s Griffin and is available from all good booksellers, including