A Secret History of Witches

Narrated by: Polly Lee
Length: 17 hrs and 33 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,411 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping historical saga that traces five generations of fiercely powerful mothers and daughters - witches whose magical inheritance is both a dangerous threat and an extraordinary gift.

Brittany, 1821. After Grand-mere Ursule gives her life to save her family, their magic seems to die with her.

Even so, the Orchires fight to keep the old ways alive, practicing half-remembered spells and arcane rites in hopes of a revival. And when their youngest daughter comes of age, magic flows anew. The lineage continues, though new generations struggle not only to master their power, but also to keep it hidden.

But when World War II looms on the horizon, magic is needed more urgently than ever - not for simple potions or visions, but to change the entire course of history.

©2017 Louisa Morgan (P)2017 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"At once sprawling and intimate, A Secret History of Witches deftly captures the greatest magic of all: the love between mothers and daughters." (Jordanna Max Brodsky, author of The Immortals)
"Epic relay race that gripped me from start to finish. Fiercely uncompromising and unsentimentally poignant, A Secret History of Witches will transfix you." (Michael Bishop)

What listeners say about A Secret History of Witches

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Such Beautiful Writing, Such Terrible Characters

I have never been so infuriated by a book.

The writing is gorgeous, evocative, and made the locations of Brittany, Cornwall and Wales come alive. The combination of these Celtic locations, combined with the story of hereditary witches, was impossibly seductive. Sadly, the reality did not stand up to the concept.

First of all, the title is totally misleading. This is not a Secret History of Witches. It is not a secret history of anything. The book lacks both history and magic. The sprinklings of witchcraft throughout are sparse and decidedly non-magical.

Also, there are major plot problems with this multi-generational story. We are repeatedly told that the craft will die out if there are no female children to pass it on to, but once a female child is born, they are left totally in the dark and told nothing about their heritage. In one episode of the story, we are supposed to believe that a smart, savvy teenage girl who has been raised by SIX women, all practitioners of witchcraft, and who is herself the last hope of the legacy, has absolutely no idea that this is happening in her family. It comes as a total shock to her when this is revealed on her birthday. And then she is a skeptic who is abusive to all six of her female caretakers, particularly her mother. Seriously. It is one of the many times when I almost gave up on this book (and should have).

But the biggest flaw is how utterly unlikeable some of these women are. I thought the young Ursule was the most terrible female character I had encountered in a long time - until I met her daughter Irene, who wins for Most Odious Female Character.

It is sad to me that an author can take such a beautiful concept as hereditary magic that exists in these ancient cultures and turn it into a mundane tool for the shallow and self serving.

I stayed with it against my better judgment because I wanted to see where it went, and for a few minutes near the end I really thought it might redeem itself. There is a nice twist during WWII that I wish had been a larger focus of the book. But the ending was a terrible wimper, a fizzle of an already dying ember. And so very un-magical.

I am sorry I wasted so much time on this story. And yet... she writes beautifully. Thus the frustration. It is a strange, literary conundrum.

On a high note, the narration is fantastic and I will look for other books performed by Polly Lee (who speaks lovely French). I do wish someone had told her how to pronounce Samhain, because the Irish in me cringed each time she said "Sam-Hane" but it wasn't her fault.

Listen to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic instead.

392 people found this helpful

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Repetitive and Mostly Boring

I was really disappointed with this book. I kept waiting for something awesome to happen, but it was plodding and dull. There’s something missing that takes it from faux history to magic. After devouring Alice Hoffman’s recent ‘Practical Magic’ prequel, I was hoping to get pulled into another magical matriarchy. It’s a great idea but the execution is lackluster.

123 people found this helpful

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Very poor ending

I could not believe that the book just ended I was left hanging, there was no closure at all.

12 people found this helpful

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If romantic femin-mysticism is your bag then get this novel

Of course, I’m miffed. I found this book in the fantasy classification. Imagine my disappointment when, instead of clever, fast-paced action and plot twists I’m forced to slog through a family history of reasonably uninteresting witches who peppered their boorish exchanges with enough French cliches to lend their story an air of ersatz exoticness. This book should have been classified as romantic fiction. It was a total waste of time, mon cheres.

36 people found this helpful

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a mary-jane, but well performed

finishing this was a struggle. The story was about 4 women who act like children, but all become crones by their mid 30s. It is childish, and seems like the author's wish for a pagan lineage.
The narrator reads with enthusiasm and passion, and is a joy to listen to.

13 people found this helpful

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Best book I've read since A Discovery of Witches!

Thoroughly enjoyed this story. Only complaint is the mispronunciation of "samhain." Please correct this, it should be pronounced "sah-wen." Otherwise it was wonderful, definitely will revisit this story in the future!

23 people found this helpful

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Whoa

This book was phenomenol. Props go to voice actress for a stellar performance! I adored the line of witches and I found myself having very visceral reactions to all of them. I had a lot of love for all of them and was glad to see each witch in the line had a unique take on the craft. This was a totally different set up than I've seen in other witch books and I found myself loving it. Highly recommended

16 people found this helpful

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Loved this story

I really liked this book. Each mother passed down the craft to their daughter and how they handled the realization, power, fear and danger that goes along with it. You get attached to each character (except the one you don't like) but I won't spoil that one. If you like stories about witches you will like this one. The narrator did a wonderful job bringing the story to life.

9 people found this helpful

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Amazing narrator

Lovely story, amazing narrator, good character development. I enjoyed listening and I'm glad the magical/witchcraft element wasn't overdone or cliche.

11 people found this helpful

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Pretty Good

I liked how long this book was, Im always looking for longer books. The book is a good read but strange. Its like a mini series more than one book. The reader does am amazing job though, it kept me interested

10 people found this helpful