Rating: 4 out of 5
In Catherine Cavendish’s The Malan Witch, Robyn recently lost her husband Simon. Her sister Holly, who owns a remote cabin with her husband, offered to let Robyn stay there for a while so she can have some time to recover. As soon as Robyn arrives, however, strange things start happening. She’s sure she sees someone in the shadows of her room. A crow follows her around and even attacks her. Two mysterious stones with holes in the middle appear in her kitchen. Eventually she enlists the help of Hedra Trescothick, a local woman who knows the stories of the Malan Witches (two sisters). They were burned to death quite some time ago, and they haunt the land the cottage stands on. Two poppets were placed in specific parts of the house to bind the witches so they couldn’t do any harm, but when Holly had the place extensively renovated, one of those dolls got tossed into a fire and burned. Now the witch will do anything it takes to free her sister’s spirit.
The subject of the Malan Witches is introduced very clumsily. As soon as Robyn arrives she peruses the books on the shelves, picks up one about local folklore, and just happens to read the description of the Malan Witches. This was entirely unnecessary, since Robyn has extensive conversations with Hedra later that go over pretty much all of this information.
There’s plenty of tension, creepy moments, and so on. However, at the very end of the book the author suddenly decides to take a so-far good-guy character and inject confusion as to whether or not they’re actually a good guy. It feels shoe-horned in, doesn’t make a lot of sense, and ultimately doesn’t have much impact on the plot except to confuse things for a little while.
The really good part about this book is the characterizations. Robyn is a wonderful strong female character. Rather than running away, she’s determined to free her sister’s cottage from the witches’ influence. Hedra and her white witch friend Meliora also have a fair amount of personality. The plot, pacing, and characters are perfect. The only problems are the couple of details I mentioned above.