In the depths of winter, I like to find books that are like a warm hug for the soul, gentle readings to balance out the fierce weather and chilly days. Under Her Spell, the newest novel from Bridget Essex, is the story of a not-very talented witch, a beautiful and mysterious woman who is also a deer, a town full of folks with animal forms, and the wheel of the year. How delightful to find matriarchal religions used in fantasy fiction not as a "gotcha!" but as a beloved part of the story's worldbuilding. How lovely to slip into the town of Benevolence and the witch academy at Lunarose Abbey for a few hours, wiling away the winter with their traditions.
Isabella, worst witch in Arktos, is down to her last post as Village Witch, in a strange town known as Benevolence, where the shopkeep can be a woman and a goose, and the child of two birds can be a goat. Isabella has one task: weave the spell to keep the town safe at Solstice, and don't cross paths with that terrible deer-girl Emily, whose father ruined everything. Neither of these things happen, to the very best effect, and Emily, Isabella, and the delightful, chatty Alice (Isabella's tabby cat familiar) live and love together, and solve a ghostly tragedy at Imbolc, and save the an ancient god at Ostara. I liked Celtic Pagan mythos used to this effect, woven into the character's lives seamlessly (with talk of other religions in their worldbuilding, as well--it's a very multi-pantheon kind of world). The characters are endearing, the love sweet, and the details of the world quite cozy. A perfect winter read, and I can't wait to follow the rest of the Wheel along with Bridget Essex.