Maite Carranza is a Spanish writer, author of the War of the Witches trilogy, a YA contemporary fantasy. The first book, called Clan of the She-Wolf in Europe, was published in America as War of the Witches in 2005. I’ve checked Amazon and Amazon UK and I cannot find either of the other books, Desert of Ice or Curse of the Odi, available in an English translation.
The word “translation” brings me to the biggest problem with this book. War of the Witches is poorly served by a very bad translation. “Reigns” instead of “reins,” and my personal favorite, “filter” instead of “philtre” (love potion) were bad enough, but then I hit the thuddingly inaccurate “millenniums.” In one way, this was a good thing, since I had been blaming ridiculous sentences like this one — “The sincere expression of horror coming from the girl’s blue eyes didn’t look feigned at all” — on the writer, probably unfairly.
There is a lesson here about the importance of translators and it makes me retroactively grateful for all the graceful, transparent translations I have read. I feel bad for Carranza, whose English debut has been tragically mangled.
War of the Witches starts off in a small village in the Pyrenees mountains. Anaid, who is fourteen, wakes one morning after a storm to find that her mother, Selene, has disappeared. The trauma reminds Anaid of the shocking, violent death of her grandmother Demeter only a year earlier. A neighbor takes Anaid in, and then her great-aunt Criselda appears. Suddenly, revelations come as thick and fast as hailstones, as Anaid discovers that she is born into a family of witches, of the Omar lineage, and that her mother is the prophesied Chosen One. Worse, it seems that Selene was not abducted by the rival line, the Odish, but might have defected to them.
The story alternates between Anaid’s coming-of-age as a witch and the story of Selene. Selene is easily tempted by the Odish, who are powerful and selfish. While there are thousands of Omars hidden throughout the world, working witchcraft in secret, there are only a few hundred Odish, but they have made themselves nearly immortal by the consumption of the blood of innocents, especially the blood of the Omars when they can get it. They use their magic to get power and money, and live in the richest luxury. The prophecy says that during a convergence of planets, a powerful magical artifact will re-appear and come into the hands of the Chosen. The Omars believe that the Chosen will end the war between the witches, while the Odish believe that this will happen because one side will destroy the other.
Anaid had looked like a ten-year-old, flat-chested with brittle, mousy hair. Classmates called her “the midget.” Once her mother has vanished, Anaid begins to change physically and it becomes clear that her mother stunted her growth with a spell. Her powers grow shockingly quickly and the action moves to Italy, where the tribe of the Omars begin teaching her magic.
Anaid wants to save her mother from the Odish, but the rest of the coven fear that Selene has to be killed before the artifact reappears and the convergence happens. They try to keep this plan from Anaid, who is the only one who can find her mother in a realm called The Dark World.
Carranza goes back to old European beliefs about witches to create her magical system. Omars can speak with animals, work with plants and can heal. Odish can speak to the dead. The two lines, and their war, sprang from the rivalry of two sisters, Om and Od, daughters of the powerful witch O. The plot, which seemed obvious to me, may not be so predictable to younger readers just because they haven’t read as many books yet.
I liked the settings here and I wish there had been more description of the Pyrenees mountain village Anaid grew up in. I was brought up short when Elena, the neighbor, casually has fourteen-year-old Anaid share a bedroom with Elena’s fourteen-year-old son Roc. That seemed like a real cultural difference! The plot is nothing new, but bits of the magic are surprising, and Anaid’s interactions with ghosts are often humorous. The story is suspenseful, not in terms of what will happen, but how it will happen. I think readers ten to twelve would find this book different, interesting and a little scary. Three stars for the story; one star for the appalling translation.