Saturday, May 28, 2022

‘Witchlings’ Review: A Welcoming Tale of Magic and Belonging by Claribel A. Ortega

From New York Times bestseller Claribel A. Ortega comes a magical and exciting new story titled Witchlings. Every year, the town of Ravenskill holds a ceremony – the Black Moon Ceremony – that sorts Witchlings into covens, so that they become full-fledged witches. Seven Salazar is beyond excited to be placed along with her best friend. Only, Seven and two other Witchlings (Thorn and Valley) wind up in the Spare coven, the coven other witches sneer at. As if the ceremony couldn’t get any worse, when the trio tries to seal their coven and solidify their sisterhood, the spell doesn’t work; they’re stuck as Witchlings. So, Seven invokes the Impossible Task. Should the three successfully complete it, they can seal their coven and gain their full powers. And if they don’t, well… let’s not think about that.

First things first, I just love the world of this book. Ortega constructs an enchanting world that’s instantly enveloping. Their lush worldbuilding lends itself to readers’ imaginations; Ortega is thorough in the information they provide but allows enough room for readers to fill in the gaps. From the vibrant descriptions of Ravenskill itself and the way it operates, to the system of magic, it’s impossible not to get swept up into this world. Ortega also strikes the perfect balance between worldbuilding and story in general. They aren’t so focused on establishing the world that they overwhelm the action. Many elements even tie into the Witchlings’ quest, making the story all the more enjoyable.

Furthermore, Ortega includes thoughtful critique on classism and privilege in general, largely through the mistreatment of Spares. Throughout the book, readers see how Spares aren’t afforded the same opportunities to grow their magic, even if it happens to be weaker. Because of this, job opportunities are incredibly scant. They face unfair (and unjust) treatment both in and beyond the workplace. Their employers – who are often wealthy and powerful witch families – mistreat Spares simply because they can. Ortega does an excellent job illustrating Seven’s rage over this privilege and Spares’ lack thereof. They emphasize Seven’s morals, but also her fear that she may face a similar fate. Moreover, readers also see how the wealthy witches hold much more sway than most. Ortega uses this tidbit to their advantage, showing (especially through Seven) how Ravenskill has its faults but that it’s worth fighting for a better version.

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There’s so much to love about Witchlings, but its beating heart is the trio of Seven, Valley, and Thorn. These girls shine both as individuals and a group. Individually, each brings their own distinct skills and personalities to the table. With Seven at the forefront, readers gain much insight about her. Ortega reveals the swirl of insecurities Seven faces and how she finds ways to combat them without completely dismissing them. Moreover, Seven remains firm in her beliefs and goals. Valley has a fantastic arc, too. She’s filled with anger and attitude, but not once does Ortega allow that to sully the character. They give Valley the space to be angry while unravelling the cause. Not all is what it seems with Valley, and that’s perhaps my favorite thing about her. Thorn is an absolute ray of sunshine. While she’s the new kid in town, she tries her best to bond with Valley and Seven. She’s enthusiastic but also wary about the task at hand. Not only does Ortega allow Thorn to ease some tension, they also give her a history that’s insightful on several levels.

Group-wise, the Witchlings have a wonderful dynamic. For me, what’s most effective is that they don’t initially get along that well. Ortega reiterates the hurt Seven feels due to Valley’s bullying, and Valley doesn’t suddenly change her attitude towards Seven. Just because they are now part of a sisterhood doesn’t mean they’ll automatically know how it works, and that’s pivotal to their growth as characters. Meanwhile, Thorn must adjust to being a new kid while also getting sorted in a coven with two people who share a tense history. It takes time for them to trust each other, and Ortega writes that in an organic manner. They also illustrate how even with little trust, the girls are able to work together and use their skills for the benefit of everyone.

Witchlings is not one to miss. Ortega writes an endearing and spellbinding story that invites all readers to lose themselves in the pages. It’s full of humor, clever twists, and gripping suspense that keeps the story fresh and exciting. Ortega imbues their words with smart commentary throughout that never undermines the intelligence of their target audience. They offer a powerful examination of friendship and finding one’s inner power. Seven, Valley, and Thorn remind readers that they don’t need to compromise what makes them unique to belong. Witchlings is unflinching in that message, and it’s what makes this must-read story so special and unforgettable.

Witchlings releases on April 5. Pre-order your copy here. Be sure to also find out what coven you belong to with the Witchlings coven quiz (Frog House, squad up).

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