Review: The Circle Girls: Once Upon A Witch, by Anya Novikov

circleThis is a Clive Staples Award 2014 Nominee.


Delli is a normal teen in a tony high school, but the past is about to intrude on her life. She starts to dream of another girl that shares her name-Deliverance-and who lived during the Salem Witch Trials. As she dreams Deliverance’s story, she finds events in her modern life to be eerily paralleling it. Can Delli somehow make it through, and can Deliverance as well.


Three stars out of five. A competent YA book, but it’s somewhat of a bait and switch. Kind of want to give it less for that, but it’s not a poorly written book.

What’s good:

  •  Well-done historical novel. The parts set in Salem are done well and are true to life.
  • Also, a well-done YA novel. Delli and her friends sound like real teens, and the writing overall is of good quality. The YA part could have been a stand-alone book, and deals with realistic circumstances and problems.
  • Interesting shadowing of events. It’s hard to do a modern-day “Salem Witch Trial,” but what happens to Delli seems credible enough not to jar your suspension of disbelief. It could have been taken further, actually.

clive staplesWhat’s bad:

  • Bait and switch. This isn’t what you’d expect from the premise. More on that in the “my thoughts,” because it involves spoilers.
  • No reasons why. I don’t really get why Delli corresponds so much with Deliverance. I might be misreading or missing something, but I don’t think any real reason or link was given why Delli should be dreaming of a past ancestor and repeating her footsteps.
  • Do you even need the fantasy part? There’s no reason for it. Again, more on this below.

My thoughts:

Spoiler Warning. Sorry, I have to discuss it to explain things. Just skip this if you plan on reading the book. I’ll put it behind a page break.I have to admit at first I didn’t like the book. The reason why is simple; the fantasy aspect is pointless.

During the entire book, all Delli does is dream of Deliverance. She never goes back in time physically, and apart from minor physical things like her hair being braided or her shoes being muddy, the whole thing between them is done in waking or sleeping dreams. Delli’s life simply parallels Deliverance’s as much you could in a twenty-first century life, and ends without any interaction of note between the past and the present.

As far as I read, there was no given reason why Delli started dreaming. Yes, she foretold things, but she was more or less powerless to change them. She changed her attitude towards her friend, but there felt like little or no correspondence between her actions and the past.

This sucks mostly because it makes the whole concept not necessary. Like instead of dreams, if the framing device was Delli and Abby doing a play on the witch trials, and real life started mimicking that, the book would be not much different. The dream time-travel really doesn’t do anything; Deliverance and Delli don’t interact on any level. You just have two similar situations, but with no context or explanation why history has mirrored itself, or why God would let a girl dream of a past possible ancestor.

This is why I called it a bait and switch; it’s barely a fantasy novel if at that.

That being said, it’s not a bad book for what it is. It’d be perfectly fine for a historical-loving YA reader, but the fantasy aspect is tacked on. It’s not like Dark Biology, where it gets put into SF because it’s a hardish technothriller covering space exploration, but you walk in expecting more than it delivers on.

So I can’t give it a low review because of this, but I can only say it’s a likable book. You can add a star to its total if you don’t mind this. It’s a good YA read, but doesn’t make use of its premise well.


    1. I haven’t read it, but I don’t think Circle Girls would be as supernatural. If not for the dreaming, it could easily be non-fantasy and non paranormal. Not that it’s bad, but it was odd to see it recommended as spec fic.

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