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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Winter Trials by K.S. Marsden is the first book in the Northern Witch series. The Winter Solstice is a long held tradition for Mark's family, especially since his Nanna happens to be the town witch. When his Nanna decides it's time he learns about his witch heritage, Mark has a choice to make: to learn witchcraft or to continue on as before. His first lesson is studying the auras of his classmates. When he sees the stained aura of the mysterious new student, Damian, he knows something is wrong even if his Nanna doesn't seem to believe him. As Mark grows closer to Damian, he begins to understand what being a witch really means.
Mark is a teenager so he's dealing with high school life where he's always stood out for being one of the only gay students and for having a grandma that's a witch. His Nanna shines as an eccentric witch who's also feisty and loving, completely confident in who she is and fully embracing what makes her different. She has a zany personality and wants nothing more than to carry on her witch heritage through her grandson. The strongest connection with both of these characters is how they embrace who they are and they don't care what anyone else thinks. They're a contrast to Damian, who is a bit reserved and feels out of place, but they also provide him with a safe place. The budding romance between Mark and Damian is sweet and innocent, capturing the light feeling of first love.
The town has a homely quality to it where everyone knows each other. Even the spells are realistic and down to earth, a mix of lighthearted and meaningful. The spells represent both tradition and a new beginning for Mark who is embarking on a journey of discovery. Christmas and winter act as a backdrop throughout, revolving around the Solstice which gives the story a mystical feeling. K.S. Marsden has a delightful writing style with laid back and witty humor befitting the grounded tone of the world. Winter Trials is a quick read with Marsden packing in plenty of charm and heart that you'll immediately fall in love with.