Witch Lit Wednesday: The Moon, The Stars, and Madame Burova

An unfortunately blurry photo I took of the audiobook cover beside my earbuds, some tarot cards, and my crystal ball on a black and silver striped background.

Honestly, I should describe this novel as “Witch Lit Adjacent” since the titular character is Romani and not a practicing Pagan or Witch, however she has a talent many of us in those communities strive toward. Madame Burova, also known as Imelda, is a clairvoyant who reads tarot and palms. Also of interest is her ability to communicate with the dead to help her clients.

The author, Ruth Hogan, handles the topic of divination with respect. When I first started the audiobook and heard the g-word used (something I’ve learned is now considered a slur), I started to research the author out of concern. I found Hogan was inspired by a well-known Romani tarot reader, Eva Petulengro. Hogan read her autobiographies and then worked with another tarot reader to further research the culture and practice. I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible the choice of words was based on their usage as well as the historical setting of 70s England. All I can say is that it was used infrequently and usually by the Romani characters themselves. Still, I know many will appreciate the warning.

Racial and cultural inequities do come up in the book, as well as chauvinism, and the characters meet and overcome those obstacles. There’s definitely something to be said about the power of supportive family and friends in helping a person find and embrace their identity. And pets. Several very special, emotionally-healing canine companions in this book!

Imelda was both an interesting and loveable lead. Not as crotchety as her mother, she was independent and fiercely protective of herself and others. As her story went on, I kept wishing she would use her gifts to get more insight into her own situation. Her argument for not reading the cards for herself was sound and something many of us should keep in mind: our own biases, hopes, and fears can obscure the message we need to read. If her uncertainties could have been solved with a simple Celtic Cross spread, she wouldn’t have experienced her journey, ultimately leading to truth, closure, and a poignant final scene.

Billie’s story is less magical in the witchy sense, but there’s still a connection to the dead and all the things left unsaid. It’s not a spoiler to say she learns she was adopted after the death of her final parent. Billie goes on a low-stakes quest to learn more about herself which brings her to the beachside Brighton where Madame Burova and a charming cast of characters reside. Billie eventually warms to the idea of tarot cards and there’s an implication that she may try to learn more.

Trigger warnings include short scenes of animal abuse, characters experiencing racial injustice, and some sexual harassment.

Despite those, I recommend this title to anyone who enjoys more contemporary stories in which magic and divination are represented in an authentic, realistic way. There’s mystery without any scary bits. Fans of historical fiction may also appreciate the frequent flashbacks to the 1970s. There is romance, but I will warn you this is not a romance novel. Not everyone gets the happily-ever-after some may hope for, but I felt the ending was both satisfying and beautiful. Madame Burova charmed me.

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

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