Witches of East End
Melissa de la Cruz
Hyperion: 274 pp., $23.99
Literature for young adults has become such an "it" genre that increasing numbers of big-name authors are trading on their reps to write for younger audiences. Not Melissa de la Cruz. Having won legions of fans with her bestselling Young Adult series
she's heading in the opposite direction with "Witches of East End," the first installment in a new series for grownups. This one is definitely not for kids.
Instead of vampires, the main characters are witches. In place of
, the action unfolds in North Hampton,
, a town that "does not exist on any map, which made locating the small, insular community on the very edge of the Atlantic coast something of a conundrum to outsiders, who were known to wander in by chance only to find it impossible to return; so that the place, with its remarkably empty silver-sand beaches, rolling green fields, and imposing, rambling farmhouses, became more of a half-remembered dream than a memory. Like Brigadoon, it was shrouded in fog and rarely came into view."
Gone are erudite teens in private school; they have been replaced with a slightly older cast of wealthy characters who can fool around in more graphic detail.
Yes, the light, mostly alluded-to sex of "Blue Bloods" flies out the window faster than a broomstick in "Witches of East End," which unleashes all the pent-up sexual energy De la Cruz has held back in her writing for teen readers. In her hands, witches aren't gray-haired women with warty noses and cackling laughs. They're gorgeous objects of desire.
Freya, in particular, seems to "ooze sex from every pore." According to her driver's license, the book's main character is 22, but in reality the petite and curvy blond is barely legal — or even clothed. She never wears undergarments.
Freya has managed to land the town's most eligible bachelor. Bran Gardiner is a globe-trotting philanthropist who, at age 30, is 11 years her senior. But whenever Bran is away, Freya is tempted to stray — with her fiancé's younger brother. A brooding 24-year-old who smokes and rides a Harley, Killian is always game for a ride.
Freya is the youngest in a centuries-old coven known as the Beauchamps. She, along with her mother and virginal librarian sister, have been banned from practicing magic ever since an entity known as the Council confiscated their wands and cauldrons and burned their broomsticks. (The girls' mother has to rebirth her daughters whenever they get into trouble, which explains why Freya is hundreds of years old but has the body and libido of a lingerie model.) When Freya decides to serve up love potions at the bar where she works, it inspires her sister and mother to start practicing magic again as well, but the years they've been forbidden to cast spells or bring back the dead have taken their toll.
The Beauchamps' rusty magic seems to be causing mysterious and bad happenings in the rarefied, sprawling lands of North Hampton, leading the trio to fear they will be persecuted like the suspected witches of Salem, Mass. And that's when this book begins to turn into a bit of a brew. Just as it reaches its climax and North Hampton is going haywire, a whole cast of otherworldly creatures appears. A zombie, a Blue Blood and a warlock all wander into a story that toward the end reads like a crash course in Norse mythology as De la Cruz tries to pull together her plot strings and set up the next book.
The result is a sort of mythological overload, but De la Cruz has, with "Witches," once again managed to enliven and embellish upon history and mythology with a clever interweaving of past and present, both real and imagined. "Witches of East End" isn't a perfect book, but its engaging and racy storyline still casts a spell.