witch's market book coverReviewed by Holly Madison

The Witch’s Market centers around a Chinese American folk religion teacher named Eileen Chen. Eileen’s grandmother was a Chinese Shaman, and made her living by helping clients in magical and mysterious ways. Eileen, on the other hand, decided to follow a different path and study witchcraft and shamanism from an academic level only. I wouldn’t say that she is necessarily a non-believer, but she is more or less an ordinary woman.

In the beginning of the book, Eileen is encouraged by her boss to take a year long sabbatical in order to delve deeper into the world of witchcraft and hopefully gain tenure by writing a book about it. At first, she is not sure where to go, but a dream ends up leading her to the Canary Islands, where the story truly begins.

There are some aspects of this book that seemed a little bit convenient and hard to believe. For example, Eileen meets many people while on the Islands, and they continuously treat her as if she is someone they have always known. First the witches in the marketplace, who somehow know that Eileen is “also a witch”, then a man with his own hotel who finds her and invites her to stay indefinitely, next a friend of his who is lonely, dying, and has more money than she knows what to do with, and finally a young man and his grandpa who immediately take her in and invite her to live with them. The idea of people just throwing money or their hearts at her constantly feels a little bit far-fetched. Perhaps it would be more believable if more exploration had gone into building a relationship with these people beforehand, but there was very little of that. Most of the relationships come later, long after these new characters have accepted Eileen into their lives. This could be a flaw in the writing, or it could be something more… perhaps a result of the subtle and hidden powers that Eileen seems to possess? I really don’t know for sure but it definitely nagged at me a little bit.

That aside, this was a really nice read, albeit a little bit slow. I would classify this book as a coming of age mixed with a tiny bit of mystery. If you go into it expecting there to be more fantasy and supernatural elements, you will be disappointed. If you go into it expecting it to be a simple story about a woman who is searching to find herself, you will probably like it a lot. The magic is there, but it is extremely subtle and rarely mentioned. It seems to mainly exist to draw Eileen closer to discovering what happened to a young lady who drowned in a lake a long time ago; a girl who has a psychic bond with Eileen and appears to her in visions from the very beginning of the book.

There are a couple of parts of the book that really made it shine. First, the sculptures that are made by Luis’ grandfather when Eileen comes upon him (led by a horse who she randomly decided to hop on and who ended up stranding her next to him in the middle of nowhere — again, slightly convenient and weird, but sort of neat). The sculptures are described with so much detail and are so beautiful, that I could actually see them in my mind. This was a result of truly beautiful writing and I really enjoyed this tiny little detail in the book.

The next thing that I really loved were the flashbacks Eileen has from time to time about her late grandmother. She talks about her grandmother’s “office” where she would meet clients, and how she would go about treating them and diagnosing certain bad spirits. These stories were incredibly interesting and I would have loved it if there had been more of them in the book, or maybe if Eileen would have found more of a way to tap into her grandmother’s power and actively use her gift, rather than just being on the receiving end of a couple of visions here and there.

There is so much potential with the main character’s background, and I do feel like a little of it was wasted by minimizing the fantasy elements of this story. I feel like it would have been a hundred times more powerful if there had been significantly more witchcraft in the story; very little of the actual narrative would have been lost by going that route, as it is a very tame story and could have really used a bit more spark. All in all, it was a good book, but probably not one I will read again. I would certainly be open to reading a sequel to find out how things turn out for all of the characters in the book though. I also think this author has a beautiful gift of writing and has so much potential… I hope that she can live up to it in her future books.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Holly has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science and owns a small business with her husband selling fleece and hand-spun yarn. When she is not spinning yarn, she does freelance work as a graphic design artist and is highly involved in animal rescue.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Mingmei Yip. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.