Saturday, February 6, 2010

Review - The Seventh Witch by Shirley Damsgaard

The Seventh Witch: An Ophelia and Abby Mystery
by Shirley Damsgaard
2010 Harper Collins Publishers
276 pages
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
3.5 Stars

Summary (Press Release)
Small-town librarian and psychic Ophelia Jensen hails from a long line of wise and wonderfully gifted women. There's her grand-mother Abby, a talented witch, and her great-aunt Mary, who's about to celebrate her 100th birthday. But as Ophelia learns, when she and Abby travel to North Carolina for the centennial celebration, their family secrets aren't just magickal - they're murderous.

Someone in the sweet Southern town wants Abby dead. Could it be a rogue witch in Ophelia's own family? A vengeful local witch desperate to settle a bitter feud decades in the making? Ophelia must use all her talents to save her loved ones - before the witching hour comes upon them, and bad blood turns deadly.

My Thoughts
One of the things that I have really enjoyed about this series, is the way the characters have changed and developed throughout. In the beginning, Ophelia was not very accepting of her gift, and was very reluctant to learn about it and use it the way it was meant. As the stories developed, through a series of difficult tests, she has learned to become more accepting. In this novel, when her powers suddenly don't work the way they should, and her ever-reliable runes don't work at all, she comes to the realization that she needs her gift and it is as much a part of her as her arms and legs. On the other hand, Abby has always been so strong and wise, and yet, in this novel, we watch her slowly fall apart as her past catches up with her and she can no longer deal with the pressure of keeping long-buried secrets hidden. I found Abby's breakdown much more interesting than Ophelia's as she always seemed to be such a pillar of strength. And looking at it from Ophelia's perspective, watching her grandmother fall apart, a person whom she has always relied on for strength and advice, would be very disconcerting. I really liked the way Ms. Damsgaard treated the scenes between Ophelia and Abby with such compassion and empathy.

Ms. Damsgaard taps into the superstitious nature of this quiet village in this novel. When Ophelia and Abby show up for their Great-Aunt Mary's 100th birthday party, the peace and quiet they have been expecting gives way to suspicion and secrecy. When Ophelia discovers a rattlesnake hidden under her bed and then is confronted and threatened not once, but twice, by a woman people claim is a witch, she starts asking questions. And when she discovers a dead body, whispers of witchcraft start spreading throughout the already superstitious village, all directed at the woman, Sharon Doran, who threatened Ophelia. As Ophelia begins to dig deeper, family secrets, long-buried, start to surface and threaten to tear her family apart. After several attempts on her life, Ophelia is determined to find the truth, no matter what.

Although I admire Ophelia's spirit, I have to admit that she sometimes drove me crazy in this novel with her temper and her stubborness. What in the earlier novels came across as bravery, came across sometimes as immaturity and I just wanted to shake her. I do have to admire her spirit though as she ventures into places I'm pretty sure I would not go without anyone else with me. We are also introduced to Cousin Lydia, a character I just loved, a healer with a lot of her own psychic talent. She always seemed so patient and loving with everyone, but there was a core of steel in her that came through in certain scenes. I would love to learn more about her own personal story and I hope the author does something with her character in future novels.

I was a little disappointed that Tink didn't have more of a role to play in this novel. Being a medium, and with ghosts being all over the place, I would have thought she would have a bigger part to play in the events. It seemed that whatever she and Ophelia's dad were doing was just thrown into the novel to remind us they were still there. I also found that some of the events in the novel were cut short with little explanation. Many times I was left with a lot of questions that were, unfortunately, not answered by the end of the novel. The police were investigating Sharon's family but even this was confusing as it was not made clear the role Sharon's family played in illicit goings-on and how this impacted on Ophelia's family and the rest of the village.

This is the seventh book in the popular Ophelia and Abby mystery series and according to Amberkatze's Book Blog, probably the last one. While you can read any of the novels as a stand-alone, it is recommended that you begin with the first one and work your way through them in order as Ms. Damsgaard does make a lot of references to events in previous novels. While I absolutely loved the earlier novels, and enjoyed this one, it did not leave me completely satisfied and I was left with many unanswered questions. While the relationships between family members was very well explored with sensitivity and compassion, I felt that the rest of the story just jumped from event to event so that it felt like it was thrown together. It was not my favourite book of the series.


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