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The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

By Sangu Mandanna 

3 Feb, 2023

Doing the WFC's Homework

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Sangu Mandanna’s 2022’s The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is a stand-alone contemporary fantasy novel.

Despite her pretensions to eccentricity, Mika Moon does follow the rules she learned from Primrose, oldest and most powerful of Britain’s small witch community. The prime rule: protect the secret that witches exist at all, lest witches once again find themselves the focus of official and mass hatred. Primrose is convinced that this means avoiding close friends, lovers, and any other social connection that might give a non-witch the chance to discover the secret. Even associating too often with other witches could give the game away. Thus far, Mika has been diligent, which is to say very, very alone.

Except … Mika does post online videos in which she cosplays a stereotyped witch. Since she never uses actual magic, those videos cannot possibly expose the secret. Or so Mika thought.

Ian Kubo-Hawthorn knows a witch when he sees one. As it happens, he and his colleagues have a use for a witch, if they can entice one into isolated Nowhere House.

Having been asked very nicely, Mika ignores basic prudence. Arriving in Broomstick, her ensorcelled car, she finds a home wrapped in magic spells designed to steer attention elsewhere. The mansion appears to be the home of a powerful witch. In fact, it’s home to three young witches, the very matter with which Mika is to assist.

Ian is but one of Nowhere House’s staff, along with his husband Ken, housekeeper Lucie, and gloomily attractive James Kelly. Employed by wealthy Lillian Nowhere, they care for the young orphan girls Lillian adopted from around the world [1]. As the protective spells suggest, Lillian is a witch. So are the girls, whose witchy education will be Mika’s responsibility.

The arrangement egregiously violates Primrose’s rules. Groups of witches working magic together, particularly young, inexperienced ones like Rosetta, Terracotta, and Altamira, could easily perform spells impossible to ignore. Informing one’s non-witch employees about witches is even more of a security risk. As for Lillian? She should be educating her adopted wards herself, but she is nowhere to be seen.

Lillian’s absence is why Nowhere House needs a resident adult witch as soon as possible. Lillian may espouse liberal views, but her solicitor Edward Foxhaven very much does not. Foxhaven is scheduled to visit in the near future, ostensibly to collect documents from Lillian’s office. He is already convinced that Lillian’s staff are parasitic perverts. There’s no telling how he’d react to the girls’ very visible magic. The girls need to learn to contain their spells, as soon as possible.

Motivated by duty (of course; it cannot possibly be staffer Jamie’s melancholy allure) Miki undertakes the seemingly impossible task. It’s only once she is in too deep that she discovers the corpse and a very important fact about her new co-workers.


It’s possible that Jamie’s melancholy allure does in fact play a role in Miki’s decisions.

A necessary bit of background I could not see how to cram into the synopsis: thanks to a badly cast spell intended to protect infant witches, all witches worldwide have for the last few centuries been orphaned at a young age. Parenthood is suicide for witches, which cannot help their numbers any. You may wonder if this is a perfect recipe for cycles of trauma. It is.

In Primrose’s defense, does anyone doubt that if the Tories could shift blame for Brexit’s failure by burning a few hundred witches at the stake, they would? 

There is a major plot twist towards the end to which I reacted with [ObCanCon] George Crabtree will be pleased.” [/ObCanCon] I won’t spoil it, as the resolution depends on it, except to say when I reread the early part of the novel I realized that the twist is clearly telegraphed.

With the possible exception of bigot Foxhaven, there’s a dire shortage of antagonists in this book. Even in Foxhaven’s case, his primary goal is to protect Lillian’s interests and carry out her documented wishes; if it happens that doing his duty means screwing over her staff, that’s an unintended side-benefit. People, not just Foxhaven, make unfortunate decisions but for reasons that seem entirely reasonable to them.

The author says in the afterword:

When I started writing this book, we were eight months into the pandemic and all I wanted to work on was a warm, cozy, romantic story about magic and family. A story that was, above all things, about love and human connection. 

Mandanna never lost sight of the goal. As a result, this is a relentlessly amiable novel. Remarkable given the traumatic backstories of most of the characters. If you’re looking for a novel in which nothing bad happens, where warm fuzzies abound, this may be the book for which you are looking.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: Lillian is the sort of rich philanthropist who likes to assist the needy by relocating them from their native lands to a lonely estate in rain-soaked England where their needs will be provided for … but in isolation. Lillian will not personally raise, educate, or even speak frequently with her adopted daughters.