In the last 48 hours, I’ve taken about 37 cold showers. I’ve tried eight different fan/window combinations to see which might make my apartment (whose windows all face in the same direction, cross-breeze be damned) slightly less suffocating, and I’ve unearthed every ice pack I ever owned, all of which are now in the rotating employ of cooling my forehead/neck/brain. You guys, it is hot.
See, my apartment has sprouted a new “quirk,” which is that my window AC unit can’t be on an actual AC setting (versus “fan,” which is like the non-alcoholic beer of mechanized cooling) for more than 20 minutes without blowing a fuse. Consequently I spent the weekend doing such normal summer activities as the aforementioned fan rearranging, plus ordering a takeout dinner that included one turkey wrap and three smoothies, and traveling by bus to the nearest gym so that I could “exercise” (walk at a leisurely pace) in the comfort of central air. Ah, New York. You mock me, you do.
When home, I thought I might survive the heat with distraction, and embarked upon a new series whose description seemed to put it in the same league as the saccharine and ridiculous (and recently concluded) Sookie Stackhouse books. Witches of East End follows “a family of Long Island witches that are struggling against dark forces that are conspiring against them” and is written by the same author as a young adult series called “Blue Bloods,” apparently about vampires in the same universe. WOEE is author Melissa de la Cruz’s first foray into writing “for adults” and in 2012, it was announced that Lifetime was developing a series based on the books. Because of course.
Generally speaking, I don’t get caught up in the delineation between “adult” and “young adult” fiction. It’s like reading a memoir and getting hung up on knowing the difference between what’s literal and what’s exaggerated. Good books are good books, and as long as YA is coming to the table with stuff like The Fault in Our Stars, I’m willing to give anything a chance. But bad books are also bad books, whether they’re intended for gum-snapping (do kids still do this?) tweens or elderly cat ladies like myself. And The Witches of East End is just…well, it’s just not a good book.
Where to begin. The plot on its face is a hodgepodge of various predecessors in the supernatural genre, and perhaps most immediately like a Sookie Stackhouse novel taken out of Louisiana and plopped down in the Hamptons. Ramshackle bayou houses are swapped for seaside manors, but otherwise many of the fundamentals are the same: Freya Beauchamp is an attractive bartender whose magic comes out at unexpected times and who has a special power that basically involves being able to see people’s sexual histories. (I mean, right off the bat: ????) Her sister Ingrid is also a witch, as is their mother Joanna; all are centuries old, but none have practiced magic in years because of a ban imposed after the hullabaloo of the Salem witch trials. Freya is engaged to Bran (Bran) Gardiner, a rich bachelor who’s recently returned to North Hampton, but she is also very attracted to Killian, Bran’s devilishly handsome brother. Strange things start happening in town — people missing, people getting sick, a mysterious ocean spill of some sort of silver toxin — and the witches of East End pool their resources and shrug off the magic ban to get to the bottom of it.
It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly WOEE is so terrible, except to say that I have no idea what differentiates this style of writing from what de la Cruz considered “young” adult. The book isn’t appallingly written, but kind of feels like someone fed a robot every pop-culture iteration of the supernatural love triangle, added in a bit of poorly explained mythology, and out popped a novel. It could be called “Witches, Vampires, Sexual Tension and other Things Humans Like,” by Watson. The book has no style to speak of, and flows about as well as a dial tone. Moreover, de la Cruz wastes one opportunity after another to write compelling scenes that are evocative of broader issues like paranoia and intolerance. Worse, I think she thinks she is addressing those issues.
Finally, even though WOEE has all the elements of a mystery in place — murders, accusations, fact-finding missions in supernatural mansions accessible via magic portals hidden in closets — the plot’s progression feels mediocre because it’s hard to care what happens or who it happens to. The characters are aloof and uninteresting, their history (whose only intriguing point is the Salem trials) poorly relayed, and the details of the magical universe in which we find ourselves are haphazardly explained, almost as though this were the second book in the series and not the first. By the end you kind of feel like you had a hazy and uninspired witch dream, or read a bit of Charmed fan fiction.
I hate giving up on books, and so it was determination and a glimmer of optimism that propelled me through WOEE. Then I read the second book in the series, Serpent’s Kiss (I mean really), for sheer amusement, and in the event that it might offer up a bit of “so bad it’s good” hilarity. It didn’t.
I’d like to think that I have pretty broad standards when it comes to book selection. Yes, on a snowy afternoon in February I want to curl up with a blanket and a 500-page tome of literary fiction, whose pages I’ll tuck a finger into as I reach for my mug of hot chocolate and collection of leftover Christmas cookies. But on other afternoons, like 90-degree afternoons with no AC, two panting cats and a freezer full of smoothies, I want something light, easy, and absorptive enough to make me forget I’m out of ice cubes. WOEE wants desperately to be that book, to the point that it’s awkward, like an overzealous first date, or Chris Klein’s acting. If de la Cruz had spent more time developing characters, and less on squeezing in every bit of available supernatural folklore, it might have had a chance. Instead WOEE is just another reason I’ll never like the Hamptons.
TITLE: Witches of East End
AUTHOR: Melissa de la Cruz
ALSO WROTE: The Blue Bloods series
SORTA LIKE: A robot writes Sookie Stackhouse
FIRST LINE: “North Hampton did 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 farm houses, became more of a half-remembered dream than a memory.”