Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For, by Sara Pascoe, for Timeslip Tuesday

Yay me!  I have a time travel book for this week's Timeslip Tuesday-- Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn't Ask For, by Sara Pascoe Trindles and Green, Feb. 2017,YA). This book has been in the active pile for far to long, so I'm glad to finally be writing about it and moving it on to a shelf.

Raya is 14, fed up with foster care, and afraid she's going mad.  Her mom suffers from schizophrenia, and now Raya is hearing a cat's voice inside her head...Angry and tired of having to be answerable to other people, Raya takes off for London, and after a few false starts, find a good place to live and work, with good people.  But when her little foster brother Jake comes to London too, and gets badly hurt in an accident, and her social worker finds her, something inside Raya snaps...and she travels through time.  Raya, it turns out, is a witch.

Fortunately, the talking cat, Oscar (her social worker, Bryony, is also a witch, and Oscar's her familiar) travels back in time with her, and helps the witches back in London find her.  Unfortunately, they end up in the middle of the Essex Witch Trials of 1645, just about the worst possible time to be a strange girl.  It is very touch and go--will Raya be hung as a witch before she can be pulled back into her own time?   Bryony does arrive in time, but then Raya's uncontrolled gift kicks in again, and instead of taking them back home, she takes them to Istanbul that same year.

Istanbul is kind to Raya and Bryony, and Oscar the cat.  It is pretty idyllic--the time travelers are taken in by a kind family and Raya enjoys shopping for silks and slippers, and enjoys as well her growing fame as a fortune teller.  Bryony depends on Raya to take them home to London again...but Raya isn't at all sure she wants to go.  Then the dark side of Ottoman politics ensnares Raya...and she has to risk messing up the past for everyone, or else watch her friends be executed!

It was a perfectly fine book, but it didn't entirely work for me.  The three big plot elements above feel in my mind like they are from three different books; they are very different in story and pacing, and they could be about three different people.  I didn't feel like I was getting to know Raya any better as a coherent, maturing character as the stories unfolded, though clearly we are supposed to be seeing her change, and the time travel problems are related to her inner conflicts. It wasn't until the Ottoman Empire that I really started enjoying it, mostly because I was interested in reading about Istanbul ...yet it turned out not to be a very convincing Istanbul--it was very much a fairy tale city, all clean and shiny with good shopping, and no day to day seamy side that even the cleanest 17th century city would have.  And finally, I wish the whole world building of an England with witches, that it turns out lots of people know about, had been more integral to the story, and not just a convenience when necessary.

That being said, these are all things that other readers might react differently too; they aren't fatal flaws.  And on the plus side, Pascoe is very good at describing the past vividly, and I liked Oscar the cat.  It just wasn't a book for me.


  1. Thanks for the post. I had never heard of this one and I appreciate your review.

  2. Sounds like a curious plot... I think I would have to read some of it to decide if I'm interested.


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