The Winter Witch
Paula Brackston
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Buy *The Winter Witch* by Paula Brackstononline

The Winter Witch
Paula Brackston
St. Martin's Griffin
368 pages
December 2013
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Winter Witch.

From the heat-drenched Welsh summer sometime in the 19th century to the rural market fairs and farms that populate much of remote Tregaron, author Paula Brackston sets the stage for a supernatural story that evokes the eerie atmosphere of the witches of the forest who draw upon a magical well for energy, while also connecting that aching gap of unrequited love. One such witch is mute Morgana Pritchard, whose fate was decided when she was just a little girl.

Feeling the weight of loneliness and promised by her mother that Cai Jenkins is a good man and will give her a home, a life and a future, naive Morgana is still convinced that she would rather stay where she is. When her betrothed arrives on a white stallion and takes her to his little house at the end of a row of four farms, Morgana learns quickly how to treat her husband as he tells her there’s not a person on God’s earth who cannot be beaten by sudden weather or a hidden bog.

Under pressure to find a “living wife” and to have a homestead to return to, Cai is helpless to talk to or comfort Morgana. She quietly supports his quest for head drover through the services of beautiful Isolda Bowen, doyenne of Tregaron’s sharp-tongued gossips. For Isolda, Morgana is a curiosity, and word travels on swift and spiteful feet from farm to farm: “Cai Jenkins has gone and got himself a mute wife.”

As Isolda seeks to reveal the underlying flaws in Morgana’s hysterical powers, it becomes clear that Isolda’s support for Cai's livelihood as a breeder of Welsh Mountain Ponies will clash with Morgana’s growing love for her loyal, innocent husband. For his part, during the months on his farm, Cai begins to put his doubts about Morgana aside and sets out to discover what he can about the "silent girl who had caught his eye on the drove of the year before."

Pitting the forces of passion and romance against the minimal resources of one man, Cai’s wish for a connection with Morgana will go far beyond a contract and arrangement. Looking deep into her dark eyes, Cai feels something pass between them. He finally admits that his wife is "a woman apart," a creature full of mystery and miracles. It's not surprising, then, that he enlists her help on a three-week drove that will make or break the farm.

Descriptive of the Welsh countryside in its full beauty and bleakness, Brackston’s story is a bit tedious as she submerges her magical elements in thick scenes of cattle herding, horseshoeing, animals dying, and pastoral walks and rides. Cai seems too bewitched and incapable of making decisions worthy of his esteemed character. We know from the outset that Cai is destined to love Morgana, yet the author’s technique of unfolding her heroine's entire character in an internal monologue makes the eventual swelling of emotion between the lovers seem less than satisfying in the final pages.

Unfortunately, the plot reveals much of Isolda's evil intent well before the ending, Brackston succumbing to Morgana and Cai's clichéd romance at the expense of any real suspense. By the time Morgana is forced to confront her archnemesis, the story has diluted any potential to take the reader on the author's alluring promise: to show the powerful flowering of a woman at the height of her feminine journey.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2013

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