Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In 1860, New England is its own nation (not Red Sox Nation, but still, a nation), with the western part of North America part of Indo-China and the south part of Spain. The borders to NE are closed, and for the past century the country has been run by the Brothers, a Puritan/Taliban mash-up. There is a Sisterhood, which is one of the two options for young women when they reach 17, the other is marriage.
NE was founded by the Sisters of Persephone as a safe-haven for witches, and the society is very integrated racially. However, the Brothers have banned witchcraft and actively seek out witches, banishing some to an asylum, others to the shipyards. Women are expected to be meek, deferential and, well, bubbleheaded. Cate and her sisters are witches, which means they have to be careful around everyone, including their father (who spends most of the book off stage, attending to business in New London; Mom's dead).
Cate is stuck at the intersection of three crossroads: marriage or the Sisterhood? marriage to whom? and what about her promise to take care of her sisters? Her decision to choose one path will, obviously, affect the others. There's a love triangle here, and while it doesn't seem as forced as many of the recent crop have been, it just added to the "a lot going on and nothing happening" problem. Because this is a trilogy, there's a lot of scene setting going on that occasionally gets in the way of real plot.
The witchcraft part is very similar to Harry Potter, sans wands. Of course this plays into the craze for paranormal; the idea that women can be powerful (and thus a threat to men and their leadership) is an interesting twist in a book for this age group. It reminded me a little of Mists of Avalon in that way.
It was interesting that the forward-thinking country is Dubai, with women rumored to wear trousers and what sound like crop tops. NE itself is vaguely Victorian-era in terms of clothes, accessories, furnishings, etc., but in terms of the way the people talk and act it's very modern. There were moments when something was going on and then a carriage pulled up and I had to remind myself that this was a pre-modern technology society.
I think the trilogy will be popular among those who still haven't gotten enough of the paranormal books, and it might also appeal to those who like romance.
ARC provided by publisher.