Winston, a poor but literate young man, tries his hand at starting a family in New England in the 1630s, but he’s cursed by witches and forced to be their slave.
After his attempts at farming in the New World fail, Winston finds himself stumbling from one bad decision to another. He’s sent to jail for helping a slave, becomes an alcoholic and finally, after finding work as a gravedigger, is forced into magical servitude by a coven of witches. Sentenced to death, he realizes after his hanging that he’s been cursed to be a familiar—appearing as a catlike creature during the day and a man at night. Now he must do the will of the witches. The story is presented as Winston’s journal, with dates for each of the major events in his life. However, since the tense constantly shifts and readers rarely get any sense of distance or wisdom on Winston’s part, the events all seem to be happening in a rush, with little dramatic impact. For instance, the most notable moment in the book—Winston’s death and transformation into a familiar—is told so matter-of-factly that the scene loses its inherent tension. Also, although Winston is a well-developed character, the witches remain fairly flat instead of villainous or frightening. A work of historical fantasy needs to fully inhabit the setting and make the past come alive, but unfortunately, the characters here speak anachronistically and hold attitudes about slavery, women’s roles in society and religion that undercut the reality of their situations. Without solid footing in 17th-century New England, readers can’t fully invest in the magical plotlines.
Historical fantasy that doesn’t quite come to life.