The Malan Witch: Catherine Cavendish
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
I’ve always loved dark witchy tales filled with legends, curses, and sinister familiars such as crows, and I especially enjoy it when the witch is unapologetically evil. These stories bring back memories of the frightening time I first saw the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. What made her such a standout character to me was the contrast between her and Glinda the Good Witch. Without the balance of these two polarising forces, neither would have had as much impact.
Similarly, in The Malan Witch, a novella by Catherine Cavendish, there’s a wonderfully balanced representation of the conflict between good and evil throughout the story, heightening the tension and stakes for the characters. Beyond a simple good witch versus evil witch, Cavendish also infuses a sort of yin and yang dualism expressed through two sets of sisters, our world and a realm beyond, and several other opposing powers.
The book begins with Robyn moving into her sister’s newly renovated cottage, near the quaint town of St. Oswell. Processing her grief after the loss of her husband, she’s searching for a way to move forward in her life, but as soon as she arrives strange occurrences begin. Odd stones appear from nowhere, a solitary menacing crow taunts and attacks Robyn whenever she goes outside, and she finds a small puppet, a twin to one her sister burned during the renovation.
While visiting town for supplies, Robyn meets the local tea shop owner, Hedra, who has a family history stretching back centuries in the St. Oswell area. She tells Robyn about the legend of the Malan cottage, where witches were burned, and their souls bound. Hedra’s convinced one of the witches has been released and wants to help banish the entity, but her motivations may be less innocent than they appear.
Cavendish doesn’t waste any time diving into this story and it’s a thrill ride from start to finish. Filled with dark imagery and intense moments between Robyn and the sinister forces of the cottage, this was a hard book to put down. I really enjoyed the incorporation of rituals and magical items, such as washing windows with salt water and using hag stones for protection.
As much as I found myself absorbed in this novella, I was left feeling that the characters were not as developed as they could have been. Don’t get me wrong, Robyn is likeable, and I was cheering her on through the story, but I wanted to know her better. We’re told about the passing of her husband, but I wanted to feel her grief, which would have added a layer of poignancy.
Likewise, the other characters play important roles in the plot, however, they did feel a bit one-dimensional at times. I found myself wishing the story had been expanded to provide a deeper connection to the other characters, particularly Robyn’s sister and her family, who don’t spend much time on the page despite being critical to the plot.
However, those criticisms aside, I was fully engaged in the story and was happy to have found a haunting tale that brought me back to the time where witches were to be feared.
The Malan Witch
“Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.”
An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.
But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood—two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan