THE VERY SECRET SOCIETY OF IRREGULAR WITCHES by Sangu Mandanna (BOOK REVIEW)
“You’re a gift from the gods, Mika Moon.”
“Don’t get soppy yet, Ian Kubo-Hawthorn,” she replied. “This
is either going to be the miracle you hoped for or it’s going to be
an absolute fucking disaster.”
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna is a feel-good, delightfully funny and tenderly sweet novel I never knew I needed.
Meet Mika Moon, an isolated witch, orphaned in India during the nineties and brought to Britain by Primrose Beatrice Everly to be raised by ever-changing nannies and tutors. She has led a life of isolation where she has never been allowed to get close to anyone, be they friends or lovers. For witches are bound to a solitary life, especially according to Primrose’s rules as she fears a group of witches together will draw attention to their powers and the human world will never accept them. They may meet in a group occasionally, as Mika does with twenty other witches and Primrose, who we discover is the leader of… dare I say their society, but even so the majority of a witch’s life is spent alone in the shadows, hiding their powers.
Though Mika has never been one to exactly follow the rules, even in adulthood. In an act of defiance she creates YouTube videos where she ‘pretends’ to be a witch—something Primrose certainly disapproves of! To Mika’s utter surprise one of her videos catches the eye of a mysterious elderly man, one who is seeking a live-in witch to tutor three young girls in the hopes of helping them control their blossoming magic. At first Mika is sceptical, surely this is a hoax, a trap of some kind, but it isn’t long before curiosity leads her to jumping in her car (aptly named Broomstick!) and driving to Norwich to a remote cottage called Nowhere House. Here she meets a family quite like no other and becomes entangled in their lives, their myriad of secrets. Yet in turn this quirky family begins to change Mika, they show her something which she has been longing for her entire life. A place to belong.
I adored every aspect of this novel, from the celebration of magical realism, to the themes of loneliness and found families, the humour and most importantly the characters. Mika Moon very quickly became one of my most favourite wholesome characters of all time. From the beginning we see that she is funny, witty, ever so charming yet also incredibly insecure as she has always been the outcast. Mika is a witch who wholeheartedly embraces and shows a passion for her magic, and in this novel Mandanna uses magic in such entertaining ways. Mika revels in brewing potions and magical teas, casting spells and experimenting with different ingredients to create new ones, always thirsting to discover more. These scenes were as whimsical as they were amusing, I’m sure most would agree that it’s always fun to see what aspects of life can be made easier with a touch of magic—personally I’d use the speed spell to make car journeys as short as possible! However, Mandanna also poignantly shows us that underneath Mika desires to share her knowledge and power with others, to be her true self without fear of rejection or abandonment. Something I believe we all strive for.
“The thing is, being a witch is extraordinary,” she said. “It
might seem sometimes that all we are is odd and different, but the truth is, we’re amazing. We’re part of the earth below us and the sky above us. Our veins echo the patterns of rivers and roots. There’s sunlight and moonlight in our bones.”
When first meeting the inhabitants of Nowhere House, Mika immediately accepts and admires them for who they are. Upon meeting Ian, the quirky eccentric older gentleman who had initially contacted her, she doesn’t judge his flamboyant and overly excited ways, she recognises a genuine warmth in him. She sees a wealth of love between Ian and his Japanese husband Ken, who has an abundance of patience, who acts as a calming presence within the house and she finds kinship through his knack for gardening. She also accepts the housekeeper Lucie’s firm but gentle fuss and attention even though they haven’t known each other long. It goes to show just how much Mika had simply been craving the kindness of others.
Though what I sincerely loved about Mika was how she understood people in a way many do not. When meeting the three children who were to become her students, she sees the eldest, Rosetta’s, need to explore the world beyond Nowhere House; she finds the youngest child, Altamira, sweet and curious nature precious and feels pure joy in being able to fulfil their wishes and help nurture their magic. For these children love spells as much as she does and their experiences in life, from being of different ethnicities, taken from their homes and left in the care of others, were not so different from her own. Even with Terracotta, who was the most difficult of the three, (fighting Mika with various threats of murder every step of the way!), she sees that the child just fears Mika’s interference. Then there was thorny Jamie, our scowling but kind of sexy librarian, who also blatantly distrusts her presence. Yet she chooses to break beyond his hard shell and get to the root of his mistrust. Mika doesn’t shy away or become angry at the ones who actively show her hostility, she acknowledges that their attitudes come from a need to protect their family unit and Mika of all people could never resent that.
Nowhere House may hold an unconventional family, but they are a family nonetheless, with the strongest of bonds. I found each member adorable, hilarious and quirky in their own way and Mandanna beautifully illustrates how each one contributes to each other’s lives, how they make each other feel loved and seen, even Mika whom they welcome with open arms. Found families is one of my most favourite tropes and Mandanna explores the theme superbly.
“Nowhere House was shifting in Mika’s mind. The new Nowhere House was messier than the first, a place made up of fractured pieces that, somehow, had come together to make something whole and wonderful.”
At its heart The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is a magical story of finding a place to belong, confronting your past and allowing yourself to love and be loved. Mandanna delivers the warmest of hugs through a book and leaves her readers with a lingering smile.
ARC provided by Kate at Hodder and Stoughton. Thank you for the copy!
The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is out now!