Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers

I grabbed A WITCH IN TIME on impulse because the prospect of doomed love has always been a concept that has appealed to the dark romantic in me. It is a story about a woman with a curse, doomed to repeat the same mistakes throughout time. And the man-- or should I say, demon-- who loves her. Oh, and she's a witch.

"Aha!" I thought. "Interesting!"

And it was... interesting. But not in the way I expected or necessarily wanted. Gentle spoilers to follow.

First, a few caveats. This is about witches in the way that CHOCOLAT and PRACTICAL MAGIC were about witches, which is to say that this is less about magic and spells and more about that vague, magic-realism sort of magic which doesn't really work in an obvious way and tends to surface as a plot contrivance.

Second, this falls under a genre of pseudo-literary fiction that I call "TWILIGHT for adults." And before you start harping at me, I do like TWILIGHT, but let's call the book what it is. It is, first and foremost, a love story, and the characters behave in reckless and irresponsible ways that will sometimes make you despise them (more on that). Similar books are A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and THE TIME TRAVELER'S LIFE, and like both those books, there is a big age gap between hero and heroine and the hero is often a patriarchal smarmosaur.

The main narrator is Helen, the latest incarnation of who we'll begin to think of as Juliet. Helen is the editor of a successful magazine called In Frame, but strange things are happening. A politician outs a major secret in an interview and her ex-husband is behaving oddly. Then she meets a man named Luke Varnier on a date who says some very crazy things, which result in even crazier dreams. She can't possibly be a reincarnated soul and yet-- he knows things about her that nobody should.

We meet several of Helen's other forms-- the first is Juliet, who had the misfortune to fall in love with a married painter. Then there's Nora, an actress from the slums. And then Sandra, an aspiring musician. All three of them end up in the same doomed relationship with an incarnation of the painter who started this all, only for everything to go horribly wrong. Then Luke enters the picture, and she falls for him... only for tragedy to strike anew.

I liked the cyclic elements and each of the women's stories were interesting, both independently and how they fit into the context of the whole. Nora's story was especially moving. I loved the whole 1940s Hollywood vibe, and it felt like a passage right out of a movie. Juliet was harder to like and I didn't understand why her mother did what she did... until the end, when we learn a little more about her and her background and it sort of made sense, but it was still weird. Sandra, I despised-- and I despised Luke in that story too. Their story was full of garbage behavior and what Luke said to Sandra and did to Aurora, and what Sandra did to Aurora after was pretty horrible.

I would be very surprised if there were no one-star reviews because of that scene.

As for the rest of the book, I did enjoy it in that it was compelling enough to read to the end and hard to put down once it decided where it was going to go. I don't think the magic angle was thought out particularly well, so if you're reading this for the fantasy elements I think you'll be disappointed. Likewise, the casual abuse of power to mess with people's heads was wrong. Especially how free Helen and Sandra felt to mess with Roger and Aurora. It felt sadistic and cruel. Luke also wasn't great. I couldn't stand him in the beginning-- he is so condescending. By the end, he grew on me a little, like Helen did, but after their past selves' actions, there was no going back.

The ending was too neat. I'm not sure I can say more about that without spoilers, but after a story filled with hardship and strife and angst, it seemed abrupt and convenient. I was also curious what happened to the rest of Angier's wives and more insight into the curse. But again, the whole magic element definitely felt like an afterthought to the romance, and wasn't explained all that well.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

3.5 out of 5 stars

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