Tilda, an artist whose young husband recently died in a car accident, came to Wales to forget. The small cabin by the lake was supposed to be a chance for her and her husband to start building their lives, but it has instead become a retreat from her grief. But weird things keep happening – mysterious power surges that make electricity unreliable around her. Visions in the mist over the lake. And an increasing feeling that something is coming. And it is. Little does she know it, but Tilda is playing out the final act in a centuries-long struggle against an evil born on the lake a thousand years back. Then, Seren, seer and prophet, had to hold her people together against magic and treachery. Now, it is Tilda’s turn. Thankfully, she has the help of a handsome diver and a local historian to help her put these odd visions into context… and maybe to find a reason to keep living after her husband’s death.
Brackston switches adeptly and often between the two stories. This ends up lending considerable tension to the segments set in the past, as every new discovery Tilda makes about the fate of Seren’s settlement calls into question the fate of the characters. Seren’s sections are bursting with drama – a potential invasion by a rival kingdom, a love triangle with a bitter princess, even an evil witch. There’s not much novelty in it, but Brackston is clearly playing with our sense of shared cultural history, fairy tales with a Welsh twist. And she paces out the revelations cleverly to maintain a low, simmering tension, with Tilda (and us) learning vague but ominous details about her fate early on in the story, but never getting enough specifics to really reassure us of Seren’s safety.
But the present-day story, which dominates the book, has too little conflict. The present-day sections in particular are mostly a fairly typical mash-up of low-key romance and supernatural drama. The character who would most make sense as final piece of a love triangle mostly just vanishes from the narrative outside of a couple scenes. Most people just immediately believe her supernatural claims, even when there’s little evidence to support them, and she largely masters the learning curve on her increasing powers without issue. The closest I could find to a genuine conflict or hook within this section of the narrative came from Tilda’s grief over her husband’s death. This is actually fairly engaging in the beginning of the book, as Tilda begins to learn how to function on her own again, a sensitive portrait of a person picking herself back up. But her grief doesn’t really provide any sort of impediment to her new burgeoning romance, which lessens the internal drama a bit, and that thread gets lost as the book’s supernatural elements kick in. There’s a degree to which The Silver Witch feels like it tries to be a bit of everything to everyone, and ends up not having time to really dig in to any particular character or story as deeply as I had hoped.
The Silver Witch is enjoyable, if a bit too predictable. Both sections, the more fantastical sequences with Seren the witch and the more traditionally romantic part with Tilda the artist, work well together, but the Seren sections definitely come out far stronger on their own. Unfortunately, as the book progresses, the low key nature of Tilda’s sections works against the story more and more often. The sections on the history of Wales are charming and the book is mostly entertaining for supernatural romance fans looking for something relaxing, but it never quite escapes the feeling that the story would have been far more interesting if Seren, not Tilda, had been the lead.
Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can read more of his work at his blog, The Comical Librarian, and you can follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Griffin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.