Book Review: In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace
In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace is the first book in the magical and charming new Evenfall Witches B&B cozy mystery series, where a guest dies in the bed and breakfast Brynn Warren helps her aunts run, and the young witch must rely on some good old-fashioned investigating to clear her Aunt Nora’s name.
Brynn Warren lives with her aunts Izzy and Nora and her reclusive uncle Gideon in the bed and breakfast they’ve made of their ancestral home of Ivywood Hollow. For centuries, the Warren family has been seen as a sort of guardian element for the small town of Evenfall, Connecticut. Residents would come to the Warrens for words of wisdom, advice, and comfort—and occasionally for help of an even more ephemeral nature, or as Brynn puts it bluntly:
Enchantments and conjurations. Spells and incantations. Divinations and charms. All the hocus-pocus old wives used to speak of in hushed tones by the fire. My aunts could do all of those things. They could do them because they were witches.
I was too.
Or at least I used to be.
Since the death of her husband, Adam, Brynn has felt increasingly disconnected both from her own magic and from her life in town. Kindly, Izzy thinks she just needs more time and encouragement to reconnect, while the snippier Nora feels that Brynn is just slacking off. Fortunately or otherwise, Nora has lots of other things to absorb her prickly attentions given the obnoxious behavior of their latest resident, Constance Graves. Constance has rented out the entire B&B while her own stately home, Graves House, is under renovation. But her demanding manner is doing very little to endear her to her hosts. Nora is doing a lot of injudicious public grumbling to the effect of wanting to kill this annoying guest of theirs, but even she is shocked and appalled to find Constance dead in the bathroom one evening.
When it looks increasingly certain that Constance’s death was less tragic accident than the result of foul play, Nora quickly falls under suspicion of murder. Nora, of course, is spitting mad at the very idea; she would never sully herself with anything so prosaic as bashing someone’s head in. She’s also irritated that Brynn won’t use her own special gifts as a ghost whisperer to find out what really happened to Constance, refusing to believe that Brynn’s inability to use magic is at all involuntary.
While Brynn might feel ambivalent about magic, she’s confident that she’s more than capable of getting to the bottom of the mystery by using her investigative skills alone. As she digs into Constance’s life, she uncovers a tale of family tragedy that led finally to murder. She also discovers, to her dismay, that several Evenfall residents have begun to turn on the Warrens, while others have begun to inquire a little too closely into what exactly it is they do to help the community. Brynn will have to tread a fine line of protecting her family’s secrets and satisfying the demands of the truth in her efforts to bring a killer to justice.
More than just a grown-up riff on Sabrina the Teenage Witch in the form of a charming cozy murder mystery, In the Company of Witches is a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on family, forgiveness, and grief. Brynn’s increasingly strained relationship with her magical heritage has everything to do with the loss of her husband and the guilt and pain that come from knowing that there was nothing she could do to save him.
The enormity of the loss gripped me in a way I hadn’t allowed it to in a long time, and I could feel the quickening of power that had been building inside me falter. The pain was pushing the magic away, crowding it out.
That was the thing about grief I had come to know so well. It was always too much. The loss always too big. The pain always takes up too much space. It takes all the room you have until there is nothing left, and then it takes even more.
As Constance and Brynn’s stories intertwine, this cozy goes from being a fun paranormal romp to a genuinely moving treatise on love and letting go. I freely admit to crying through the ending of this deeply affecting novel, which is not at all my usual reaction to murder mysteries! I’d highly recommend this not only to fans of paranormal cozies but to anyone looking for a meaningful but not too heavy and still highly entertaining mystery read.