A modern sort of witch

The long subtitle of Petty Magic by Camille DeAngelis lets you know what to expect: Being the Memoirs and Confessions of Miss Evelyn Harbinger, Temptress and Troublemaker.

Evelyn Harbinger is a 149 year old witch who lives in New Jersey. Apparently a large coven lives in her town, mostly women and mostly with regular jobs like running a B&B or a toy store. Since they live such long lives they age slowly and Evelyn finally looks like the old woman she is becoming. But sometimes, for fun, she casts a spell to change how she looks. She is her younger self with black hair and tight skin. She spends one night each with any man she fancies.

Until she meets Justin.

Justin looks just like Jonah, her true love who died during World War II. This is a world of reincarnation and she tries desperately to see if he remembers anything from his previous life. Because she does – desperately.

Evelyn’s love story is imperfect and cut short and she has the possibility to hope for his return. Her dead love is equivalent to a real life breakup. There is pining and frustration and unsatisfactory responses from family members who think you should just buck up and move on. She had found a man who knew her darkest secrets and loved her anyway. (Most witches just get knocked up by a regular man; their long lives and slow aging just become difficult to explain.) Don’t we all want to find that one person who accepts all the stuff you don’t like about yourself? No wonder she clings to Justin against her better judgment.

A parallel plot is an investigation by the coven in to the death of her older sister’s husband. Henry might have died sixty years earlier but Helena can still be cast out if found guilty. Evelyn is determined to prove her sister’s innocence – partially because she hates the witch to brings the charges and partially because she needs to know there is some wiggle room for spells related to love.

I love all things spies but the WWII sections didn’t stand out as much as I expected. Evelyn meets Jonah while working for British intelligence. He discovers her turning from a bird back into her usual self and learns about a new world of opportunities for her skills. They go on missions particular to her brand of magic – changing their appearances for one thing – and fall in love.

I felt more drawn to the story of Evelyn’s involvement with Justin than her actual love story. I didn’t really get a strong impression of Evelyn and Jonah’s relationship – I had to take in on Evelyn’s word that she loved him and he loved her. But Justin took her breath away every time he did something that Jonah had done and that sharp pain was palatable.

You do find out whether or not Justin is Jonah in the end. That was a bit of a surprise. So many people like to be coy about endings these days so it was nice to know. The fact that it was a happy ending despite lots of tragedy – an added bonus.

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