The Secret Circle’s original trilogy is my third finished but fourth reviewed book (series) for my When Are You Reading? Challenge and fulfills the 2000-present slot.
First off, for those who saw the TV show, the books were so very different. Please expect spoilers if you only watched the show.
Secondly, this post only concerns the first three books, the ones actually written by L.J. Smith and not by a ghost writer. Part of that was due to my lack of interest in continuing – I found the ending of the third book to be a good stopping point – and part of that was because, as a writer, I don’t think I’d like it very much if one of my book series was given to a new writer who used my name.
Finally, before I begin my review, a spoiler-free summary: Cassie Blake and her mother move across the country to New Salem, Massachusetts to live with Cassie’s elderly maternal grandmother. She is initiated into a Circle of eleven other teenage witches (male and female) who are attempting to return to their families’ glory days of greater power. Calamity ensues when they accidentally unleash a dark force upon their town. Matters are further complicated when Cassie finds herself entangled in a love triangle that threatens to tear the Circle apart.
Be warned: spoilers from this point forward.
Okay, so very not serious confession time: I love young adult fantasy novels. I think they’re great, and they often take less time to read so I can get through more of them. But more and more often, I see them going in the same direction: love triangle (or some other geometric shape) for drama, main girl as the only P.O.V. character (often first person, which I’ve already expressed views on), and predictable plot lines, often but not always along the world-saving and culture-changing lines. So because of that, I didn’t think I was going to like this series, because it has two of the three with a predictable plot line.
But I really liked them.
Yes, it got tiring always being in First Person, but that also helped generate sympathy for Cassie for me. I think that in this case, if I’d been reading Third Person Limited then I wouldn’t have known just how much Cassie was trying to keep from hurting Diana. I wouldn’t have realized that all of her choices centered around not betraying her friend and would have wondered if all of the hoops her and Adam jumped through were just dramatic plot points; but no, I know that it is Cassie’s personality – and she definitely has a well-developed one – that makes her so determined.
Further, many of the characters were surprisingly well-rounded. Usually books with a large cast have less time to devote to every character and so it’s harder to get depth for everyone, so some characters will be more one-note. Yes, some characters were less developed than others and yes some didn’t have a huge range of reactions, thoughts, and emotions, but every single one of them showed some level of variety, from bad-girl Fay to saintly Diana, from trouble-making twin brothers Chris and Doug to intelligent Melanie. It made for a nice change when I went in expecting development from maybe only three of the characters.
On the other hand, I would have liked to see more variation from Diana especially. So much of her was wrapped up in kindness and forgiveness that she felt a bit unbelievable at times, especially since the few times we saw her angry it felt more like a surface emotion and was always directed against Faye.
Further, there were some hints throughout the series that reincarnation was a thing in this world. I think not developing it beyond those few brief mentions was a waste of what could’ve been an interesting plot point, especially considering Cassie’s thoughts about certain possibilities at the end of the third book (I won’t say more so I don’t spoil anything).
My final ‘complaint’ is how the issue of Coven leadership is ultimately settled. I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, because I did, but I would’ve liked it if Smith hadn’t gone for it. The reasoning given didn’t make sense to me, especially coming from Diana – which I guess feeds back to my desire for seeing more from her than kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Giving rewards to the main character simply because they’re the main character has never sat particularly well with me.
Overall, however, I thought Smith handled her teenage protagonists very well. They were immature, selfish, made bad decisions, and tried to do their best despite everything. The in-fighting was a nice reminder that in a group that large (twelve teens), there was bound to be friction, disputes, rivalries, and the like. The story was interesting enough that I breezed through the books once I finally sat down to read them, and all of the major questions were answered by the end of the book. Yes, I could read the road map of the basic story, but I still found myself caught up in the journey, and to me, that’s as much a mark of success as a story that keeps me guessing the entire time.