Top critical review
Interesting magical system, sluggish story
Reviewed in the United States on July 22, 2021
There's much to enjoy in THE NATURE OF WITCHES. For one, Griffin gives us an extraordinary magical system. This is why I picked up the book in the first place; the premise of witches dedicated to mitigating climate change set some high expectations. Also, the main character, Clara, is openly bisexual. It's always nice to see a departure from heteronormativity. However, the primary romance, the one Clara seems destined to stick with, is 'safely' heterosexual. In certain places, Griffin achieves truly beautiful and poetic prose. Unfortunately, these moments are like spots of sunshine breaking through the clouds in an otherwise sluggish book.
Like many novels that I start with high expectations, THE NATURE OF WITCHES did not quite hit the mark. Rather than a story about witches dedicated to climate change, I got a tale of teenage love and angst. And not even angst about the state of the world. Clara's biggest worries revolve around how her teachers treat her (God forbid they should expect to use her gifts to help the planet) and more importantly, whether or not she'll ever have a steady date. (She's seventeen already! How long does a girl have to wait?)
Granted, Clara faces a major obstacle in her love life: Whenever she uses her power, she tends to kill the person she loves the most. Her parents died in an accident involving her magic. This has not stopped her from having multiple intimate relationships. Most of these relationships end on the fall equinox, when she inexplicably forgets she's in love with whoever she was dating the day before. (Convenient, I say. But I can be a cynic.) Based on the number of past and present partners, I'd assumed Clara was in her mid twenties until her true age was revealed well into the book. I do hope that remote witchy high school provides students with access to birth control.
Griffin achieves some of her most beautiful prose in moments when Clara is using her magic. Still, Clara and her comrades are not really "climate witches." They are weather witches, working to dispel extreme weather events caused by climate change. During the year over which the story takes place, a number of "surprise" storms descend onto their campus, and Clara must use her magic to try to save everyone. The fact that no one sees a single one of these storms coming is never explained. Doesn't anyone - the teachers, at least - watch the nightly forecast? Or check the weather app on their phone? Or is there a magical explanation for these storms that Griffin doesn't want her readers to be privy to? These questions are never addressed.
The use of magic to control storms is also a "technological fix," and that kind of bugged me. Clara and her fellow witches seem to be putting a band-aid over the deeper problem of climate change, which threatens to continue inexorably no matter how many storms they manage to break up. Will there be a price for their interference with nature? This question is never posed. The witches blame "shaders" (people without magical powers) for the current and continuing state of affairs. But all in all, the larger issue of climate change is shoved aside as Clara obsesses over her personal life and the burdens of using her magic.
I was not able to connect to Clara as a character, as much as I wanted to. (Perhaps you sense that by now.) Just as she distances herself from the people in her life, she distances herself from the reader. We are never quite let into the story, never allowed to feel the emotions and conflicts of the main characters. Clara's repeated mantra becomes overwhelmingly redundant: "I can't use my magic because I might kill someone. Did I tell you I can't use my magic because I might kill someone? By the way, I can't use my magic because I might kill someone. Oh, and in case I didn't mention it in the last chapter, I can't..." Yes, Clara, we understand your conflict. Could we please just get on with the story?
Recommended for anyone who would like to see an original take on magic. Also, if stories of teenage love and obsessive angst are your thing, this might be a book for you. I do think Griffin has a lot of potential as an author. I'll be keeping an eye out for her next novel.