These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Posted May 26, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 4 Comments

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These Witches Don't Burn

These Witches Don't Burn

by Isabel Sterling

Series: These Witches Don't Burn #1
Publisher: Razorbill on May 28, 2019
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIAP+, Paranormal, Witches
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

Hannah's a witch, but not the kind you're thinking of. She's the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she's ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly By Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah's concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah's sure it's the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she's going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem's witches become deadlier by the day.

Isabel Sterling's delightful, suspenseful debut is equal parts sweet romance and thrilling mystery. With everything she loves on the line, Hannah must confront this murderous villain before her coven--and any chance she has with the new girl--is destroyed.

 

This book was so good.

I can come at this from so many angles.  Should we talk about modern day Salem?  The complicated romantic relationships?  The magic system and its origin story?  All three?  Okay!

Modern.  Day.  Salem.  Salem, MA is one of my favorite cities in the world, right up there with London and Paris.  There’s this deep energy in that place that grounds me, whether it’s the gravity of its history or just my perception of its buzzing aura.  Either way, I love Salem, and I’m trash for any book set in Salem.  Sterling’s perception of Salem is spot on and felt so familiar to me.  She managed effortlessly to bring that city to life, but not make it too cliche, which is a feat in a book about a witch coven… set in Salem.  Honestly, excellent work.

Hannah, Gemma, Morgan, Veronica, everyone was so good.  Each character was unique and layered, although I think I would have generally liked to see more exploration across the board.  That is, except for Hannah.  The many layers of Hannah were presented to the reader and she was raw without being reckless.  Hannah’s emotions are written flawlessly – from her fear, her powerless, to her heart-wrenching grief… you feel what Hannah is feeling.  One of my favorite examples of the depth of emotion here was Hannah’s complicated relationship with her ex, Veronica.  For all the books I’ve read, I’m not sure I’ve read more than a handful that acknowledge the messy, confusing nature of being fresh out of a relationship, still loving the person, and knowing that you don’t want to go back down that rabbit hole.  The complexity of Hannah and Veronica’s relationship was awesome.

I appreciated the conversation between Morgan and Hannah as well.  There’s a lot of time in real life spent talking about misjudging people and making harmful (unintentional, perhaps, but still harmful) comments and assumptions about them, but that rarely happens in books..  Off the top of my head, only Leah on the Offbeat had a similarly styled (thought different topic) conversation that hit these cords and I really appreciated the dialogue between Hannah and Morgan about Morgan’s sexuality.

So, generally, the characters were great and while I am not Gen Z and I don’t have any right to judge representations of their generation, my impression was that the characters were very well crafted.  They felt real.  And I really appreciate all the LGBTQ+ rep, including a trans character.  Love comes in all sorts, and it’s beautiful to see it so effortless.  Doubly so because this book didn’t set out to make a social commentary.  It’s like Isabel Sterling just opened her arms and said, “This is the world.  This is our world,” and she’s right.  No further explanations needed.

As to whether or not this was good rep, it is not my place to say, as I am not within that demographic.  I will say that Isabel Sterling is part of the community, and therefore, the relationships were #OwnVoices rep.  Beyond that, I leave it to those with true life experience to lay out the successful (or lack thereof) of her representations.

I really appreciated the way Sterling tied the magic in and together.  The different abilities and their limitations are clearly thought out.  There are consequences to their actions, and even though Hannah kept breaking rules… she also got punished for them.  The origin of magic with the Three Sisters story told by Hannah is lovely as well, weaving in allusions to mythology and traditional rules like the Rule of Three.  Overall a very well-done magic system that works within scientific and cultural boundaries to be believable.

The pacing was great, the story was predictable at times and not at others.  I’m glad there’s another book on its way out, because I would love to read more of these characters.  And I’m glad there’s a prequel novella, because I spent half the book going, “Okay, but WHAT DID HAPPEN IN NEW YORK!?”

Definitely one I’d recommend picking up if you’re a fan of anything witchy, but with a contemporary feel.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

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These Witches Don’t Burn is staying on my shelf

Outside of this being a full five-star review because I can’t find anything wrong with it, this book was so enjoyable.  I laughed, I cried.  Every time I sat down to read it, I was immediately drawn in.  Considering my track record lately with hard copy books, that’s a feat in itself, and so I’m grateful for a book that really drew me in.

I can see myself reading this again, and enjoying the characters and the ability to slip away to one of my favorite cities.  There’s good, and there bad, there’s disappointing, heartwarming, and devastating.  And I loved it, I really did.

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What is your favorite witchy book?  Witchy books are some of my favorites, so if you have recommendations similar to These Witches Don’t Burn, I’d love to add them to my TBR.  Let me know in the comments!

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4 responses to “These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

    • Amber

      Thanks! It’s a lighter read as far as witchy books go, but it was a fun one and fulfilled my expectations. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

    • Amber

      Such a good assessment. I don’t find myself wanting to jabber to other people about it, but I enjoyed the reading process. And sometimes, you just need books like that. 😀