The end of Isabel Sterling’s YA debut, These Witches Don’t Burn, left readers with a lot of exciting questions: Would they really bring Benton and his parents to justice? How would they stop the witch hunters? What’s the real story behind Hannah and Veronica’s encounter with the NYC Blood Witch? And, something I always want to know in every situation, is the queer couple still happy?
By the end of These Witches Don’t Burn, Hannah had suffered. Her dad died, her childhood home was destroyed in a fire, and she’d nearly died several times herself throughout the novel in excruciating ways. I mean, a car crash that nearly drowned her, saving Veronica from a home invasion, and nearly being burned at the stake? That’s a lot for a girl to handle. This is where we begin This Coven Won’t Break.
(Note, I haven’t read the novella, This Spell Can’t Last, at the time of writing this article and missing that prequel story about Hannah and Veronica’s NYC trip did not hurt my understanding of the story thus far! I’m excited to read it, but if you haven’t gotten to it yet, don’t worry! Your reading experience will not suffer.)
After a quick prologue, we dive right in. Benton is in jail awaiting trial. With jury selection less than a month away, Hannah is trying to get back to a normal life. Well, as normal a life as she can have, being a secret witch and all. Plus, it’s her senior year! Thankfully, we still get plenty of two of my favorite characters from the previous book: Gemma, the best friend and reg (not a witch) who knows Hannah and her girlfriend’s secret, and Morgan, Hannah’s new girlfriend and a Blood Witch.
We start our story on the first day of senior year at Salem High. Veronica is attending Ithaca College, and Hannah is trying to survive all the whispers and stares recent events have caused. Still, she can’t fight her memories, and she sees flashes of Benton everywhere she goes.
There are also reminders in her life outside of school. Hannah now lives in a new home with her mom while their old house is being repaired. Nothing is the same, and it’s impossible for Hannah to escape her new reality. Our lead is drowning in grief, and the worst part for her? Her magic. When Benton attacked and drugged both her and Veronica, their magic had been blocked. Veronica’s came back, but Hannah’s magic now hurts to use. When it’s revealed that the witch hunters have perfected that drug and plan to wipe out magic for every witch, Hannah has to decide: does she give in to her grief, or does she fight?
I enjoyed the first book, but I absolutely adored this sequel. The stakes are so much higher, and I love getting to see more of the Caster and Blood Witch covens. Morgan and Hannah are as cute as ever. Their relationship built on support, trust, and kindness is definitely the heart and soul of this story. Seeing their feelings blossom compared to how we got to see Veronica and Hannah’s fall apart in book one is an absolute treat, and I really hope they continue to be happy in future stories.
I also loved getting to see more of the characters that I liked in the first book, including Gemma and Morgan. By the end of Coven, I was so attached to Archer that it made me emotional, and I loved the work Sterling has put into Cal, our trans caster. More Cal in the next book, please! We even get to learn more about the NYC witches – including the Blood Witch who attacked Hannah those months ago – and it really gave the world Sterling’s created more depth.
Speaking of characters I loved from the first book, we need to talk about Gemma. In Coven, Gemma is recovering from her injuries caused by a car crash and now uses a cane part-time. I also have a disability that requires me to use a cane on my bad days. Disability is still often underrepresented in YA, so getting to see a character who is killing it with a fluorescent pink cane genuinely made me happy. My cane is silver and blue and glows in the dark, but Sterling may have convinced me to get a new pink one for myself.
Hannah’s PTSD is handled well, too. Throughout the book, she is clearly in a place of denial, trying desperately to keep her heart and mind safe from the trauma she’s endured. When I was taking the initial steps to understand my PTSD diagnosis, I often repeated the empty words Hannah says to everyone: “I’m fine.” Reading Hannah as she works through her emotions to get to a place where she could start seeing a therapist was very cathartic for me. I am always someone shouting that we should normalize therapy in YA, so this made me happy. I really hope that in book three we get to see Hannah tackle some of her struggles in a therapy scene or two.
My favorite part – no spoilers, I swear – is that I didn’t predict the twist. My biggest complaint about book one was that I was able to figure out the plot twist within the first third. Sterling has clearly continued to grow as an author, because this book kept me on my toes and I felt like I was unravelling the story with Hannah instead of before her.
All in all, this book was stronger than the first, which is not something I often say about sequel novels, especially if they’re part of a three book or more series. This Coven Won’t Break has stronger pacing, non-stop action, cute and soft scenes in between, and made me super excited for book three. Coven solidified this series for me as one I plan to follow all the way until the end. I can’t wait for the next one. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to purchase the novella and read it immediately, because I already miss this world.
This Coven Won’t Break is available from Razorbill.
Cassie Schulz is the Events Assistant for Brazos Bookstore. You can find her on Twitter @kerfufflepuff where she tweets about books, musicals, and cats. You can also find her on Instagram, co-managing the page @tag.ur.lit with a fellow queer disaster who loves YA Lit as much as she does.