THE PLOT: ‘The Witches of Moonshyne Manor’ by Bianca Marais is contemporary commercial fiction. Told in multiple POVs, five witches in their eighties must raise money to prevent their house from being repossessed. But there’s more sinister forces at work as the local townsmen are intent on ousting them. The only way the witches can raise the money is to make a deal with a dark wizard, which is contingent on the imminent return of Ruby – a member of the coven who has been gone for 33 years. As the deadline to save the manor looms, secrets about Ruby’s absence are revealed and a young feminist attempting to help the witches is threatened.
RATING: This was a funny, enjoyable read so I’m giving it 3.75 stars. I loved the way the story came together and the final third contained plot escalations and drama that kept me hooked. I think this could be a real TikTok favourite because it has LGBT+ relationships, racial diversity within the coven and strong feminist themes. I’ll be honest, some of the racial elements didn’t sit perfectly with me, but I did love the LGBT storyline (no spoilers!). This isn’t a higher star rating because I had an emotional disconnect and didn’t fall in love with the characters, which I can only put down to the multiple POVs. Although I usually love multi-POV stories, each chapter wasn’t headed with the name of the POV witch and it felt like there was a bit of head hopping. Due to the sheer number of POVs, I also struggled with the voice of the third person narrator. The narrator felt a bit too omniscient so I was left craving more closeness with the characters.
GOOD BITS: My favourite character was Persephone, a young feminist TikToker determined to help the witches. I think her introduction was so endearing that I couldn’t help but love her throughout the book. However, I will maintain that she reads much more like a 12-year-old than a 15-year-old. In terms of the witches, I also liked Ruby’s storyline and Ursula’s redemption. For me, the best parts were the extended flashbacks to the reason for Ruby’s absence. These came alive much more than the present-day countdown to losing the manor as the flashbacks contained most of the crucial action/story/twists.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: While I think the author’s attempts at including racial diversity came from a good place, I don’t think race was integrated enough throughout and some of the insertions felt superficial. For example, the links to police brutality just didn’t feel seamless. At eighty years old, these characters have lived through racism and the historical context (particularly in the flashbacks) could have been used to greater effect. The author does this really well when a Black sister mentions mobs in the past using the N-word. I just would have liked the characters’ race to truly affect their outlook/interiority given their personal histories and the events they’ve lived through.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches’ by Sangu Mandana and ‘The House in the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune. Although I haven’t read either of these titles, they seem to have the same vibe with tropes of found family.
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