Bring On the Cozy Fantasies: Sangu Mandanna – The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

It comes as no surprise to anyone having lived through these last few years of pandemic madness that Cozy SFF (TM) seems to reign supreme at the moment. Books like Legends & Lattes would not have been as successful when Grimdark was all the rage, T. Kingfisher wasn’t well known then at all and some of us (cough, I might have been one of those “some”) would probably have complained about the slow plot or the lack of stakes. But it appears that the collective mood is asking for more fantasy with low stakes, more cozy mysteries set in space, more found families, more guaranteed happy endings. Sangu Mandanna has added her voice to the cozy cult and – boring as that sounds – I have to say I loved it.

by Sangu Mandanna

Published: Hodder and Stoughton, 2022
301 pages
10 hours, 5 minutes
My rating:

Opening Line: The Very Secret Society of Witches met on the third Thursday of every third month, but that was just about the only thing that never changed.

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family—and a new love—changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos “pretending” to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

I believe whether or not this book works for a reader is very much a question of expectations. As with the recent hit Legends & Lattes, the stakes are pretty low, or to put it better, you kind of know things are going to work out at the end. But isn’t that the same way with romance movies? You know from the start the couple will end up happily together and still you take pleasure in watching how they get there. This book was very much like that, except not quite as predictable and with a very nice slow burn romance that surprised me at times.

Mika Moon is a witch and, as such, lives a rather lonely life. Witches, you see, are not allowed to gather too much lest their powers go bananas and do harm. But in our modern world, it’s easy enough for a real witch to be a pretend-witch on YouTube and express herself that way. When Mika is hired by someone who saw her videos and kind of gathered her pretense wasn’t pretense at all, she takes on a job that is both dangerous, forbidden, and completely new to Mika. She is supposed to take care and teach three young girls how to control their wild magic. Never mind that three witches shouldn’t live together, let alone three untrained witches whose magic could burst out of them in a fit of emotion and do all sorts of damage. It turns out these three witches are lovely girls and Mika can’t helpt but accept the job. And so starts a tale of found family, sisterly love (and fights), and even a tender romance with the gruff librarian Jamie.

Sorry for making yet another comparison, but what follows is in the same vein – although quite its own thing – as The House In the Cerulean Sea. We follow Mika get to know the inhabitants of the aptly named (because warded like crazy) Nowhere House, learns what it is like to live with other people, people who take care of each other and, by extension, also take care of her. We the readers, in turn, learn about Mika’s past, a bit about how magic works, and we get to follow how Jamie and Mika get ever closer to each other, quite against their will.

I loved everything about this book and cozy is exactly the right word to describe it. That’s not to say there weren’t moments of danger or situations where I wondered how they would get out of trouble. But I was never truly worried that something irrevocably bad would happen. The fact that the journey to the happy end was exciting and fun and heartwarming just showcases Sangu Mandanna’s skill as a writer.
Speaking of skill: I listened to the audiobook version of this and I have to mention the masterful job Samara MacLaren did. I loved her calm, beautiful narration, the accents she did (never overdone, just right) and the different voices she gave the characters.

My flirtation with cozy fantasy is far from over and while my TBR is brimming with books that fit the subgenre, I do hope Sangu Mandanna will treat us to another one just like this.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good!


One thought on “Bring On the Cozy Fantasies: Sangu Mandanna – The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I enjoyed this so much too! I was actually thinking about it yesterday, and I went to Sangu Mandanna’s website to discover what she’ll be writing next — pleased to report it’s another book that sounds to be in a very similar vein. It’s not out until next spring, but that’s something to look forward to!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s