This is such a unique and beautifully-written contemporary fantasy! The Nature of Witches is a debut book from Rachel Griffin, marketed as Twister x Practical Magic. Twister pulls on my heartstrings from watching the movie in childhood, and both the Practical Magic movie and book are all-time favorites of mine. While I’m not always a fan of contemporary fantasies, witches are one of the few fantasy elements that work extremely well in present day-based fantasy stories. The Nature of Witches finds us in the present day with the world’s climate becoming increasingly erratic with every passing season. Much like we experience in real life, each year brings stronger weather, causing more and more destruction on a catastrophic level. Witches work with regular humans, nicknamed shaders, to help mitigate the effects of the climate and to break apart especially disastrous storms. However, a witch’s magic is tied to each season (spring, summer, autumn, and winter) and their magic is weak during the three other seasons leaving it impossible for them to fight against inclement weather like tornados in autumn, high heat in winter, etc.
Then we meet Clara, the Everwitch, who, unlike the other witches, is powerful in all seasons and her magic never diminishes. Everwitches are incredibly rare and Clara is the first one born in more than a century. She is currently attending the Eastern School of Solar Magic with other witches to train in controlling the weather and is quickly approaching graduation.
A la “the chosen one” trope, Clara is the only one who can help change the future and tame the wild weather. However, she is hesitant. Clara struggles to contain her magic and harness its power safely. When her magic is out of control, no one near her is safe, and her magic has continuously targeted those who she cares for, including killing her parent and her best friend. Because of their deaths, Clara is too afraid to use her power at full strength and will not train with other students. Because of her power’s ability to kill, Clara pushes everyone away and considers stripping away her magic completely. Everything changes when her mentor is killed and she’s forced to confront her magical ability and make the ultimate decision – but will it be too late?
As mentioned, the concept of this book really appealed to me. Climate change is a relevant topic of our time and a witch’s power being tied to a season is a very unique concept. Rachel’s writing is very concise and easy to read and I personally flew through this book. It’s on the shorter side (just shy of 350 pages I believe) and is quick-paced, without unnecessary details. Admittedly, I struggled a little with Clara as a character during the first half of the book. Because of her history, she is very much isolated at the beginning of the book and rejects most help to control her power, and suffers from the “anti-chosen one” mentality. She’s not particularly a likable character at first, but Rachel does a fantastic job highlighting her character growth. As a reader, you come to understand her choices the more you read and as you see her have to grapple with her emotions and a responsibility she doesn’t want.
I liked the relationship and romance aspect of the story as well. One of the downsides of Clara’s power is she is more passionate during certain seasons, and once that season ends, her feelings are likely to diminish. This, paired with her intimacy issues has left a trail of resentful lovers, including a previous girlfriend. Instead of just mentioning past relationships, we get to see Clara interact with her ex-girlfriend, Paige, quite regularly. I appreciated how much more destructive Clara has been on other people (even without her magic) through her conversations with Paige.
We also get to see a new relationship develop for Clara. The romance is sweet and understanding, and I felt very invested in its success or failure. For someone with such volatility in a huge part of her life, I liked the stability, growth, and even challenges the relationship provided for her. It also is with a man instead of a woman, which would make Clara either pansexual or bisexual (I don’t believe it’s explicitly said in the text). While I am not personally LGBTQ+, I do like to see pan/bi representation as I feel like it is often underrepresented and highly critiqued by both people in and out of the community.
Finally, if you are at all interested in this book I highly recommend pre-ordering it before its release on June 1, 2021. Not only is the finished edition gorgeous (the naked cover underneath the dust jacket is highly illustrated with beautiful nature elements) Rachel has partnered with One Tree Planted for an awesome pre-order incentive. Instead of the normal pre-order trinket (which, who needs more of those anyway?) One Tree Planted will plant a tree in honor of the book! One pre-order = one tree planted. This is such a great option for a book that has explicit commentary about climate change and being kind to the environment and I really love an author who not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk” as well!