Tales from Rugosa Coven

Sarah Avery
Tales from Rugosa Coven Cover

Tales from Rugosa Coven


This book quite frankly took me by surprise, and a pleasant surprise it was indeed. I picked this up as I am trying to read a whole bunch of literary award winners this year and picked this as the winner of the Mythopoeic Award in 2015.

The book is a collection of three interconnected novellas based on a coven of modern day witches based in New Jersey. The three novellas, 'Closing Arguments', 'And Ria's From Virgo' and 'Atlantis Freaks Need Not Apply' are presented in chronological order of the setting although the order they were written in where 'Atlantis', 'Arguments' then 'Ria'.

In general terms I have to like or relate to characters in order to enjoy them. If I don't click with a character's personality it can be really easy for me to switch off and disengage from the characters. Where I think Avery had done so very well is in her characterisation. In this book there are members of the coven who I took a dislike to and my dislike stayed throughout. I mean, I don't think the tax adviser Jane isn't meant to be a total bitch with no redeeming features but that's exactly how I read her - a compassionless woman who is quite happy to take from her coven mates. Bob is Super Dad, Super Dad has failings too - over protective and quick to resort to his fists, and a lawyer too whilst playing the family man whilst seemingly putting their needs last! I thought he was a massive jerk too (and I think there are some definite seeds to these two becoming a couple in any future writing based on this coven).

I think I really want to stress this, I didn't enjoy this book in spite of the characters, I liked this book because of the characters - I didn't like all of them, in fact I'd hate to be in the coven with some of them but at the same time they all seemed real and authentic. They have failings and strengths, they have real problems as well as the magical ones in the book. I felt like I was reading about real people.

Avery's research and detail into the magical is fantastic, whether it is witchcraft, paganism, Asatruar, divination, auras - you name it, it's presented here in a very believable world. In this world, the divination works, the spirit world can be accessed, hell, mythical creatures from the sea exist and yet it is couched in very much our modern world. Paganism is not exactly integrated into society yet at the same time it is not on the fringes of spiritual faith. The book describes this relationship as 'half-hidden' and I think this is wonderful. I consider myself an atheist and as the years have gone by really considered tarot cards and horoscopes to be parlour tricks these days, however in my teens I read much into the occult and the esoteric and was fascinated with it. Reading this book took me right back to those days and I found myself fascinated with auras and chakras all over again. I delighted at this delve back into the unknown and mysterious.

(As an aside I've recently begun playing a Druid character in a roleplaying game and this book has been a source of quotes and behaviours for my character - thanks author!)

'Closing Arguments' sees two of the coven mates, a brother and sister lose their parents who continue to haunt them from beyond the grave. One, Bob the lawyer is trying to put protection wards on the house and sell the goods from the estate whilst his parents leave him 'Post-It' notes telling him to burn his house. I wasn't really enjoying this story and was wondering whether I'd enjoy persisting with the book until I was drawn into the end of the story. All I can say is, without revealing too many spoilers is we have a wonderful courtroom scene. I thought it was very clever and a wonderful hook which I didn't see coming. This scene towards the end of the novella hooked me in, it had humour and wit and was quite rather surreal in a fun way.

'And Ria's From Virgo' is a wonderful story, significantly longer than the other two stories. The author refers to this character as comic relief. Perhaps this is how she was written originally but I don't see her turning out in this fashion. Ria is a member of the coven but also works in an occult shop reading tarot for customers. She also has crystals, seeking stones, ephemeris, incense - the works. If there is a 'thing' to believe in, Ria believes in it. She also has terrible OCD, a fear of death, a pathological fear of germs and an obsession with cleanliness.

I loved Ria, I found her problems challenging and felt empathy with her mental health issues. I felt much of her coven mates really didn't look out for her - so much for 'perfect love and perfect trust' (except the super Amber and Sebastian). Ria's struggle throughout, in matters of love, identity, spirituality and the more mundane financial is one she has to face up to, and she largely achieves this. I felt the ending was a bit flat and was a little saddened with the outcome but I think things work out well for Ria.

Have you seen the film 'Cocoon'? Well, then you've read 'Atlantis Freaks Need Not Apply'. Actually, that's not true and it's a lazy comparison but it's what came to mind. Man from the sea lands on a beach, is very cute, makes out with coven member. I guess my prejudices kicked in here because by now I was in 'hate Jane and Bob' mode and like 'Sophie, Amber, Sebastian and Ria' mode. Oh well.

I'm really pleased I picked this up and it's a worthy award winner.