Review: These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling [Hocus Pocus Readathon #4]

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.


What is These Witches Don’t Burn about?

This novel is about Hannah, a young witch living in Salem. Hannah is part of the Elemental Clan–one of three living witch clans that preserve the legacy of three distinct types of magic. For the most part, Hannah has some mundane concerns. She’s recently come out as gay and her best friend’s parents are weird about it, she and her ex have a very tense relationship after having been childhood friends, and now strange things start to happen in Salem that concern magic. Blood runes appear, leading Hannah to believe a Blood Witch may be hunting her and her ex. A sacrifice occurs in the woods during a high school party, leading the police to interrogate Hannah. It’s a lot to handle, and it’s all about to get worse.

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

I can’t say I’ve encountered a whole lot of YA Urban Fantasy, perhaps because UF is so closely tied to PNR (Paranormal Romance) which tends to be quite adult in nature. I’m happy to see that there’s getting to be more overlap! And honestly, this book reads a bit more mature than the standard YA protagonist, I’d almost argue it could appeal to the NA audience.

Tropes: Secrecy and Young Drama

I would say the biggest driving forces of this book are that witchcraft must be kept a secret, and the drama surrounding the teenagers’ lives. Romance in particular comes up quite a bit, and there are multiple secrets that Hannah and her friends are keeping.

Plot: The Summertime Adventures of a Teenage Witch

Yeah, I would argue that this book reads more like a slice of life story for a teenage witch. Though some serious events occur, this book is less focused on massive world changing events than I would have expected considering the magic involved. But that’s all right, as it’s also the first in a duology setting up the world and the characters.

The Good

Though I wasn’t always a fan of Hannah, I came around to liking her through the course of the novel. I also enjoyed the explanations of the powers each Witch Clan had–and that the goddesses that developed them were invented for the novel, rather than adapted from another source. I liked the way Hannah regarded Wicca, as well, since often times contemporary fantasy kind of looks down on Wicca and neo-paganism while also borrowing elements from them. I was pleasantly surprised by how serious this book actually got towards the middle and end, raising the stakes to a much higher level than I was anticipating.

The Okay

Veronica could have used some more development I think, just because she really seems to awful to Hannah for them to have once been good friends and girlfriends. There are explanations within the text for how their new relationship developed, but they didn’t quite cut it for me. I also don’t think there was enough build up to the reveal of the antagonist. I appreciated the surprise of the twist, but it didn’t fully pay off for me.

The Bad

I felt like there was just too much going on at some points. There were a lot of characters to introduced as it was, but adding to that the new people that Hannah meets throughout the novel kind of exacerbated the “introducing a fantasy world” elements. There were also times where my suspension of disbelief regarding the way witch society worked was harder. The world building was good overall, but these elements–especially with regards to how the Clans interact–made it harder to get into the novel.

Final Thoughts

All in all this was a pretty enjoyable read! I liked dipping into a familiar genre in the YA category, and the characters really drove the story well. The world building wasn’t as immersive as I like, but it was sufficient and carried me through to reading the next book. There was some good Sapphic representation, which is always a plus, and some of the darker turns in the latter half of the novel genuinely surprised me. I do wonder if the prequel story should have come first after all, but even with the elements of this book that I wasn’t a huge fan of I still enjoyed it.

Bonus: Bookstagram content!

Have you read this book? If so, tell me your thoughts! I’d love to read more reviews!

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

One reply on “Review: These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling [Hocus Pocus Readathon #4]”

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