Morgana does not speak, not since her father disappeared when she was a young child. This isn’t what makes people in her small Welsh village look askance at her. Strange things have always happened around her, especially when she was upset. Marriage to Cai the Drover is meant to help Morgana start over, but that’s not how things turn out in Paula Brackston’s transporting novel, The Winter Witch. The Winter Witch is part of Brackston’s loose series of books about witches in England and Wales from the 1600s to World War I.
We meet Morgana on her wedding day. Her mother has found her a suitor from another town. Cai does not mind that Morgana can’t speak; he really just needs a wife so that he can be the head drover for his town. He promises to be kind and not rush Morgana, though he does take her to live on his farm near Tregaron. Unfortunately for Morgana, Cai is one of the few kind people she meets in her new life. Even though the novel is set in the mid-1800s, there are people in Tregaron who call Morgana a witch and blame her for the spate of bad luck that begins shortly after her arrival.
The plot of The Winter Witch is a simple one. Morgana has to defend herself against unexpected enemies, enemies who want to take her new life away from her so that they can claim Cai’s farm. The appeal of this book comes from watch Morgana make peace with and learn to use her abilities and in watching love bloom between Morgana and Cai. Morgana is prickly and strange. Because we are privy to her thoughts, we know more about why she does the things she does than Cai and the other people of Tregaron. Cai is alternately bewildered and annoyed and delighted by his bride.
This book is a gem. Brackston has a knack for bringing settings to life. Without overwhelming her readers with exposition, she transports us to rural Wales, in another century, during an extremely harsh winter. Her characters are well drawn. (At least, the protagonists are. The villains are a bit sketchy, but I didn’t mind.) There is no direct sequel to The Winter Witch, as far as I know, but I think adding anything else would just be overkill.