Book Review: An Incantation of Cats by Clea Simon
By Doreen SheridanJanuary 17, 2020
An Incantation of Cats is the second novel in the Witch Cats Of Cambridge Series by Clea Simon in which Harriet, Laurel, and Clara, three magical cats, must learn to work together to save the person they all love.
Becca Colwin has hung out her shingle as a witch detective, to the mixed feelings of her three cats, the only actual magic-wielders of their household. While Harriet, the creamsicle eldest, dislikes anything that could possibly delay mealtimes, the seal point middle cat, Laurel, is always interested in any venture that might allow the currently single Becca to find a man. Clara, the calico youngest, is not a fan of her sisters’ seeming superficiality. While she wants her person to be happy and fulfilled, she worries that Becca is putting herself in unnecessary danger with her new line of work.
Her worries are not allayed by the appearance of Becca’s two newest clients. The first, Gaia Linquist, works at Charm and Cherish, a shop that caters to practitioners of witchcraft. Gaia insists that someone at work is trying to poison her. As evidence, she brings a baggy containing a root she found in her tea. She claims that it’s wolfsbane, a potent poison, and no one in Becca’s home is inclined to disagree.
Shortly after Becca agrees to take Gaia’s case, she’s visited by another prospective client. Margaret Cross is convinced that someone is stealing from her business. Becca’s eagerness to help fades when she realizes that the business in question is Charm and Cherish, and that there may be a significant conflict of interest at play here. She tries to decline the case but soon finds herself more entangled than she bargained for when a man related to the shop turns up dead.
Through all this, her cats, and Clara in particular, must keep an eye on her activities while concealing their own magical nature. It helps that Clara has the power to move through solid objects as well as hide in plain sight. But with Becca in greater jeopardy than ever, she finds that her own abilities aren’t enough, and wishes desperately that her sisters would be more helpful:
Clara had long felt pretty sure of the extent of her own powers—the shading and the ability to pass through doors pretty much went paw in paw, as if her corporeality was tied in part to her visible self. What her sisters could do, though, she wasn’t completely sure. Harriet was so lazy, she rarely pressed her powers. Summoning up a pillow or a new toy was apparently all she was interested in. And while Clara had been reasonably confident that Laurel’s abilities extended only to implanting suggestions in the minds of humans, her middle sister’s recent brags had the ring of truth.
If only her siblings trusted her more, Clara thought, her ears beginning to sag. If only they shared more. Acted more like family. Then maybe she wouldn’t worry so much about the person they had all adopted.
This interrogation of family roles plays a large part in An Incantation Of Cats. While I do wish Clara’s sisters would be less mean to her, I think they have a point when they later chastise her for her very feline self-absorption. Clea Simon stays very true to cat psychology throughout these books despite their fantastic premise. In fact, a large part of the series’ charm comes from the cats and their idiosyncratic view of Becca’s doings. Humans are portrayed with no less affection: it’s pretty great when Becca’s human friends come into the picture, and especially the other members of her coven. When the coven and the cats come together, the results embody the kind of gentle humor that permeates this novel, lightening the darkness of murder and associated crimes:
When Ande suggested a purifying ritual, Becca appeared visibly relieved. Laurel fled to the bedroom, and Harriet recoiled, drawing one mitten-like paw up to her sensitive nose as Marcia waved the smoldering sage and Becca sprinkled salt. Clara made herself watch, however. These humans had no real powers, she knew that. But something about their rituals was vaguely familiar, even if it was simply that their ancestors had witnessed similar foolery through the centuries, at times with a tragic result. Clara hadn’t heard of any such nonsense in Cambridge. Not this century, anyway. But she wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, the way the three women waved their hands was positively entrancing. Almost as if one of them was about to throw a toy for her to fetch.
The second installment of the Witch Cats Of Cambridge Series builds on the first to deepen its mythology as well as expand on Becca’s life in contemporary Massachusetts. I very much enjoyed the gradual yet assured world-building, as Clara and her sisters do their best to keep their person out of trouble, even if she will insist on solving murders. It’s a sweet fantasy of magical cats helping to find out whodunnit that’s perfect for a few hours of cozy escapism.