The babies were born as the clock struck twelve. A bat fell from the air mid-flight. A silver salmon floated dead to the surface of the river. Snails withered in their shells, moths turned to dust on the night breeze and an owl ate its young. The spell had been cast.
Poppy Hooper has managed to deceive her father into believing that there is nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. He ignores the cats that find her wherever she goes, the spiders that weave beautiful lacy patterns for her, even her eyes - one blue, one green with an extra black dot orbiting the pupil.
Ember Hawkweed is a pitiful excuse for a witch. When the other girls in her coven brew vile potions, Ember makes soap and perfume. Fair and pretty, Ember is more like a chaff than a witch. One of the Hawkweeds will be queen of the witches - but everyone knows it won't be Ember.
When the two girls meet, Poppy discovers her powers, and finds out the truth. Bound by their unlikely friendship and the boy they both love, the girls try and find their place in the world. But the time of the prophecy draws nearer - and the witches won't give up the throne without a fight.
I was really excited about this one - modern witches, ancient prophecies, switched at birth - what's not to love? And it started out so great! Poppy has always stood out at her school, animals seemed to flock around her, even her poor mother went crazy looking after a little girl who she was sure wasn't her own. Meanwhile, Ember was a pathetic excuse for a witch, getting teased by the girls, especially her "chosen one" cousin Sorrel. Right away, I quite liked how the girls were just looking for where they belonged and a true friend who understood them.
For me, the story started really well but then meandered in the middle and made the ending feel rushed. I really didn't understand Leo's part in the story at all, apart from as Ember's love interest. We meet Leo quite randomly, as a side character in Poppy's half of the story, then Ember falls head over heels for him, as does Sorrel. In some way, I could understand their fascination with him: he was, after all, the first ever boy that they had laid eyes on. I kept waiting for the big connection but I think he was just the love interest, the cute boy for the girls to fight over - which I really didn't like. Not only that, I just didn't understand him; Leo was homeless, ran away from an abusive step-father, but apart from Sorrel fighting them off for him, it wasn't mentioned again! Not to mention, Poppy was such a strong character, desperate to be understood and to find a proper home, but then she gets love struck and nearly ruins her only friendship? Not cool.
I really wanted more about the witches, why they had stayed hidden and apart from the modern world. I could understand that interacting with normal men wrecked their magic but the world has grown since medieval times, they wouldn't have been burnt at the stake anymore! We did get some explanations and the magical realism was really interesting, as was Poppy's part in the prophecy and the coven as a whole.
All in all, I really wanted to like this and I did enjoy it for the most part but the love triangle (maybe a square with Sorrel?) ruined things for me. All of the characters, from the girls to their families, especially the mothers, were such an integral part of the story and their power, both magical and emotional, was sidelined to Leo's character, which mostly just caused a distraction.
Published 16th June 2016 by Orchard Books. Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.