This fantasy novel from Weiss (The Goddess Wheel, 2003, etc.) follows a trio of young sisters as they’re initiated into the world of Italian witchcraft.
In the spring of 1970, Sophia, the Priestess of the Rimini witch clan, dies without any daughters to carry on the family’s Stregheria tradition. She bequeaths her villa in the Tuscan mountains to her nieces, Gina and Barbara, the latter of whom is visiting Italy from New York. Barbara brings three daughters—Mimi, 9, Kara, 14, and Joanne, 17—and her husband, John, a strident Catholic, with her. While the girls explore the villa and countryside, John casts a disapproving eye upon all things pagan, including the idea that his impressionable daughters might enjoy witchcraft. Gina and others in the Rimini clan warn Barbara that “a strong anti-pagan faction has been building propaganda against us for several years now.” The girls, however, each have magical adventures that prove the beauty of Stregheria; all the while, a raven keeps close watch, particularly on Kara. As Beltane (May 1) approaches, the sisters realize that their family could tear apart if a battle occurs between the healing magic of the Benandanti clan and the black magic of the Malandanti. Weiss’ debut novel may star three youngsters, but its larger themes of dogmatic Catholicism and its maternal predecessor, paganism, may be better appreciated by older teens and adults. Nevertheless, playful characters abound, include a fairy named Tinkle and Sophia’s familiar, a cat named Toby. Frequently, the author’s depictions of nature are gorgeous, as when “Mimi sat down on a fallen log, inhaling the salty breeze and listening to the sounds of a timeless world.” These moments are in tune with the history lessons that are revealed to the girls, most of which bolster the idea that “the rules and trappings of formalized religions were only added on as men tried to take control of Nature.” An action-packed finale stirs in wizardry and gunplay to chilling effect, and the choosing of the new Priestess is a joy to behold.
A sophisticated tale that should whet audiences’ appetites for further historical and religious reading.