Things are changing in the tiny town of North Hampton -- a town that always, always stays the same. After decades apart, the Beauchamp women have finally reunited. For years, the witches were forced to abandon their magic (after things went horribly, horribly wrong in a village called Salem nearly four centuries ago). Now, however, something dark is preying upon their beloved town, and the women don't see the harm in a little white magic to protect the people they love. But when their spells start to go awry, and the accusations fly, the well-meaning witches discover that not everything is what it appears in North Hampton -- and they may be dealing with forces the mortal realm was never meant to know.
In Witches of East End, Melissa de la Cruz builds a world that will envelop readers in its small town charm. Though everyone knows everyone in the tiny, insular community of North Hampton, the population is surprisingly diverse -- from the unfathomably rich but awkward Bran Gardiner, to the mayoral power couple Todd and Corky Hutchinson, to the eccentric, magical Beauchamps: Freya, Ingrid and Joanna. The characterization of the Beauchamp women is spot on, with their dysfunctional family dynamic and individual quirks, charms and flaws. Each of the women couldn't be more different, but they're all appealing in their own way: Freya with her utter lack of inhibition. Ingrid with her bookish wisdom, and Joanna with her Mary Poppins' charm.
Unfortuately, readers are given the sense that they've dropped in on the middle of a story, with only cryptic allusions to a vague past to guide their way. It's unclear exactly what the Beauchamp women are, or why they've been forbidden to use magic, or even by whom. Their family was torn apart centuries ago, with repercussions to this day, and no explanation is given as to the how or why. The first two-thirds of the novel moves slowly, as readers try to get their bearings. When things finally do pick up in the last 50 pages, the revelations are made so quickly and randomly that readers' heads will spin. The resolution seems much too forced and tidy to be believable, and even though the Beauchamps' mysterious past is finally explained, anyone unfamiliar with certain mythologies will be more confused than ever. There is definitely a fascinating mythology at work here, and it's a shame that it isn't built coherently enough to support the world de la Cruz creates.
Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this novel at BEA. This did not affect my review in any way.