Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Release Date: August 1, 2011
Genre: YA Fantasy (Urban Fantasy)
*Warning: If you haven't read Once a Witch yet - there are spoilers for that in this summary and review of Always a Witch.*
After discovering that she does indeed have a Talent and that her entire family is in danger, Tamsin Greene is charged with another mission: to follow Alistair Knight, the man who threatens her family, back into the 1880s and either to stop him from getting to the Knight family or to get to her own ancestors and warn them of the impending danger to their descendants. Things are never what they seem, and this is a huge battle that Tamsin alone can fight - and there is a choice that she alone must make by the end of it - a terrible choice, as her grandmother told her.
The second book outdoes the first - and that's saying something! By the time Always a Witch starts, Tamsin has grown a lot from the appealingly juvenile girl she was at the beginning of Once a Witch, and she continues to grow and mature throughout the book. Watching her develop was so satisfying - as her decisions become harder, the obstacles more difficult, as the action escalates, she becomes an adult, but she still retains her vibrant personality. She's more serious at the other end of all this, but she's still herself - which is one of the lessons she has to learn.
And that part is done so beautifully - about coming to terms with who she is. It's not belabored, it just slides naturally into the story - and I love how the titles of the books tie that all together. No more on that or I'll give away parts of the ending, but I really love that.
The pacing that I loved in the first book carries through to the second as well. Carolyn MacCullough really knows how to hook you right away and keep your attention and interest throughout the entire book. Never a dull moment, the action building and building as you hold your breath up to the scene where everything falls apart and comes together, and then the perfect ending, as you quietly let out all that breath you've been holding in a contented sigh. The resolution, by the way, is totally surprising. When Tamsin is faced with that "terrible choice," I had no idea what she'd do. It looks like it's going one way, then the other, then... The situation felt like a real decision, where no option seems right and you're looking for another way out. So I was feeling right along with Tamsin as she agonized over what to do.
I like that the choices all the characters have to make are never clear-cut. Well, except for the evil characters, whose choices are easy because they do whatever they want to do, without bothering about what's right. But the good characters' choices seem so difficult - and I love the way Carolyn gets them out of what sounds like a horrible situation to be in. It's so clever, so unexpected, and just so right.
The time traveling features a lot more in this book than the first, but I like it that the book still doesn't turn into an exploration of how time travel works. There are lots of twists to the story that play with the idea, and it introduces just enough of a mystery to intrigue you about time travel but not take your focus away from the story.
It's unfortunate that I never heard of Carolyn MacCullough before, but I'm rushing to pick up her previous books, Drawing the Ocean, Stealing Henry, and Falling Through Darkness. Her writing style is so clear and compelling, her characters so believable, her plots so natural. She's going right onto my favorites list now!
Thanks to Houghton Mifflin and to NetGalley for providing a digital copy for review.