Jan 18 2013 12:00pm

First Look: Paula Brackston’s The Winter Witch (January 29, 2013)

The Winter Witch by Paula BrackstonPaula Brackston
The Winter Witch
Thomas Dunne / $24.99 print/ $11.99 digital / January 29, 2013

In her small Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana. She has never spoken, and her silence as well as the magic she can't quite control make her a mystery. Concerned for her safety, her mother quickly arranges a marriage with Cai Jenkins, a widower from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumours that swirl around her. After their wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving, but she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the rugged mountains that surround it, while slowly Cai himself begins to win her heart. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her love, and herself from all comers, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything.

In Paula Brackston’s second novel, The Winter Witch, she brings us the little witch who lives her life in silence, but who has a heart that shouts as loud as a lion’s roar.

Morgana Pritchard was always allowed to run wild and free over the hills and valleys of her little town. But it's more than her wild antics that set her apart from the other children of the town; odd things happen when Morgana is around and she was always looked on by the locals as strange. When she was young, Morgana's Dada had explained to Morgana about her magic blood. He would read to her stories of far off places, and after her father died, she refused to speak again, adding even more to the whispers of the strange little girl.  

Morgana’s mother knew her daughter would never have a full life in this town where everyone looked at her with mistrust, and when drover Cai Jenkins sees Morgana in town while passing through, he is enchanted by her. Morgana’s mother knows this gentle man could be Morgana’s chance for a real life.  Cai does not object to her silence and he is not aware of the whispers in the town about Morgana.

During the months in which the match has been arranged he had made it his business to discover what he could about the pretty, silent girl who had caught his eye on the drove of the year before. He had been able to discover little, beyond that her father had upped and left when she was small, she worked with her mother at the large dairy farm in Cwmdu, and that Morgana has not spoken since she was a young child.  His inquiries at the inn had yielded scant information; a few words regarding her affinity for horses, her willingness to work hard with her mother, her calming touch with the herd, and of course, her wordlessness.  But Cai had noticed something.  Something telling in the responses he had gained.  For each and every one of them had been preceded by a pause.  No matter whom he questioned, there was always a slight but unmistakable hesitation before the speaker would deliver their opinion.  As if they struggled to find the right words.  As if there was something they were not saying.  In these fleeting pauses, in these in-breaths, Cai is convinced lies the truth about Morgana.

Although Morgana’s inability to cook and lack of housekeeping skills do not make her the best choice of mistress of Ffynnon Las (“The Blue Well”), her calming ways with the farm’s prized ponies, makes her the perfect choice to assist Cai on the farm and in the drove to London.

He is pleased to find that she can so simply be returned to good humor and health.  What does it matter, after all, if she cannot cook, has no interest in the house, and prefers not to be in the company of neighbors?  How much better that she share his love of the land, and of the stock.  Perhaps it will be hills and the ponies that allow him to reach her.  He finds himself smiling.

It is not just her love for the ponies and her growing affections for Cai that draw Morgana to Ffynnon Las; there is great magic here on the land which calls to Morgana’s magic blood, and the spirits of the witches of the well want Morgana as their guardian of the blue well’s magic.  

But there are darker powers at work who can also feel the power of the well.  The power that belongs only to the owner of Ffynnon Las, and that evil will do anything to remove the little witch and possess the Grimoire of the Blue Well, including turning the whole town against Morgana. 

God, I venture, has nothing to do with it.  
Nor he did, Morgana.
Oh! She is here, inside my head!  I hear her words as clearly as if they were spoken aloud.
Get out!  I will not converse with you—leave me alone.   I will leave you alone when you leave Ffynnon Las, not before.

When Morgana’s farm, her life and her beloved Cai are put into jeopardy, the little witch will show that behind her silence there hides a great power all her own.

Check out an excerpt of Chapters 1-2 from The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston.

Lucy Dosch writes book reviews for her blog Her e-reader has turned her love of reading into an obsession. When she is not reading, she likes to spend time with her husband and two daughters.

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Leanne Segersin
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