Once A Witch by Carolyn MacCullough (Review)

“Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin’s magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The search—and the stranger—will prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the sins of her family, and unleash a power so vengeful that it could destroy them all. This is a spellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.”

Once a Witch is fun young adult urban fantasy about a family of witches, time travel, and young romance.

The family drama is my favorite aspect about this book. There’s the right mixture of love and resentment expressed through both tense conversations and shouting matches that makes the family drama so messy and compelling. The main character Tamsin feels isolated from the rest of her family because of her lack of talent. She takes it out on them with her snark but is vulnerable enough that she stays likeable. She obviously wants nothing more than to be a part of her family even though she says otherwise. Also, when eventually Tamsin’s family situation gets turned on its head, the baggage Tamsin and her family carry between them keeps the twist from feeling Mary Sue-ish.

I love Tamsin’s relationships with her sister Rowena and her grandmother the most. Even though their relationship is so strained, Rowena and Tamsin do try some to put aside their differences and connect like any sisters would. The relationship between Tamsin and her grandmother is one of lots of secrets but also mutual respect. I also love the explanation behind Tamsin’s name!

I liked Alistair in the first half. The second he walks into the shop at the beginning of the book, he seems suspicious but also harmless enough. SpoilerWhen his true intentions are revealed, he seems a tad too creepy for the sake of being a villain. I don’t understand exactly what goes on between him and Agatha but it seems unnecessary – End Spoiler.

The romance between Tamsin and Gabriel is sweet. It occupies just the right amount of time in the story and doesn’t feel rushed. While not being the most original love interest, Gabriel is sweet and funny when he needs to be. It’s refreshing to read a story where the main characters don’t spend forever not admitting their feelings to each other and where the romantic drama is fueled more by Tamsin’s fears of her family and dating a Talented person.

Once a Witch is the strongest when it’s about the family dynamics and Tamsin’s insecurities. The two journeys to the past though seem almost pointless when Tamsin and Gabriel not only get any closer to what they’re looking for but also repeat the same mistakes. The second time travel trip is so frustrating to read when the exact same thing happens as in the first trip.

Once a Witch isn’t anything flashy, but it’s a quick, fun read with a strong focus on familial relationships.

Rating 3/5

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