Sweep Volume 1 (an omnibus containing Book of Shadows, The Coven and Blood Witch) by Cate Tiernan
“She’s Here, and She Has Power…”
Ah, memories. I read Cate Tiernan’s collection of witch-related books back in high-school, and spotting the new editions (which include three instalments to a single book between an exceptionally attractive cover), I picked them up for a trip down memory lane. They were pretty much as I remember them: told in first-person account by sixteen year old Morgan Rowlands, we follow her story as she discovers her heritage as a witch, becomes caught in a love triangle, and learns to control her newfound powers as dark forces close in on her.
Containing the first three books in the series (Book of Shadows, The Coven and Blood Witch ) the story concerns Morgan Rowlands at the start of a new year at high-school, where she meets Cal Blaire, a super-gorgeous new student who introduces her and her friends to Wicca. Finding an affinity with the religion, Morgan delves deeper into witchcraft and her own history, discovering several surprising things about her own family tree. As well as this, she starts a relationship with Cal, who promises to teach her more about her own power, and meets his mother Selene and his half-brother Hunter, both of whom seem intently interested in her abilities.
The stories contain a collection of disparate plot-threads that wind in and out of the main narrative, some of which lead to bigger things, others which are quickly discarded (things like Morgan’s lesbian aunt facing persecution and Morgan’s little sister getting attacked by her boyfriend are minor B-plots that don’t really go anywhere and lend nothing to the central plot). One gets the sense that although the author has a vague idea of where she’s taking her characters; for the most part she’s making up their stories as she goes along. It’s a unique way of telling a story, but the quick pacing of the series means that she gets away with it for the most part.
Although Morgan gets nowhere near the whiny self-absorption of one Bella Swan, she remains a fairly bland protagonist. I certainly didn’t dislike her, but despite the immediacy of her narrative, I never felt particularly invested in her either. She’s of average intelligence, average looks, average kind-heartedness — you get the idea. The only thing special about her is her latent magical powers, and — you guessed it — she ends up being more naturally powerful than any other character in the story, including those who have been studying the art for years.
On that note, it’s worth saying that the Wicca that is portrayed in this book veers more toward the fantastical than any accurate representation of how the religion is practiced in the real world. Granted, I’m not an expert in the field, but with elements such as blood witches (with genuine supernatural power), spells of invisibility, shape-shifting and instantaneous healing, mind-melds and mind-reading, and extra-sensory perception, I think it’s fair to say that any teenager weaned on these books with a side helping of The Craft and Practical Magic will probably be disappointed if their dabbling doesn’t result in superpowers. Real-life Wiccans might also feel queasy about some of Cal and Selene’s tactics in introducing young people to their religion, and Tiernan clearly has trouble reconciling the tenants of Wicca with the narrative’s need to justify the presence of evil witches and dark magic. To find a more accurate representation of modern Wicca for YA (though even that takes some liberties) try Circle of Three by Isobel Bird.
Tiernan takes pains to add diversity to her cast of characters, though it times it feels more like tokenism than actual representation: there’s a gay auntie, token black girl, token Asian girl, token punk girl, token bi-sexual, but only the last is important to the narrative in any way. Furthermore, there’s some unpleasantness in the way the girls are written. I find few things more tiresome than girls who squabble over a boy’s attention, and much of the conflict in the first three books revolves around Morgan’s fight with her best friend Bree, who gets jealous over her relationship with Cal and resentful of the power that she displays. Cattiness and nastiness ensues, and Morgan is just as bad, thinking at various points that a girl’s: “tanned face looked plastic in the moonlight” and of another girl that: “she looked like a hooker.” Things improve later in the series, but there’s a sad lack of strong female relationships in the first three books.
Okay, so it’s hard not to be a little snarky when it comes to these books. Characters are defined by what they’re wearing and what clique they belong to. Morgan agonizes just as often about her bra-size as she does about the life-threatening forces closing in on her. Cal’s introduction is described quite literally like a clichéd slow-motion entrance that you’d see in a film: “It was like in a movie when everything goes into soft focus, everyone becomes silent, and time slows down while you figure out what you’re looking at.” But there are some good ideas at work, including (though I don’t want to give too much away) a subversion of the typical teen romance, and it’s immensely readable throughout. If you’re in the mood for a bit of light reading of the in the teen romance/supernatural genre, then you could do worse than this series.