In the rural Swedish town of Engelsfors, six girls are brought together after the death of a boy in their town. Most people believe Elias' death is a suicide, but is that really the case?
The spirit tells the six girls, who each belong to different cliques and each have their own goals and secrets, that their task is to protect the town from evil.
This means that alongside dealing with the typical teenage problems (and the book addresses tough topics such as bullying, drugs, and inappropriate relationships), they now have to work out how to control their newly-revealed magic powers and protect those around them.
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There were some surprising similarities to February's book, Beartown, which also plays out in a rural and isolated Swedish town. Again, this setting helped to amp up the tensions.
And I was reminded of Ana, the protagonist's best friend in Beartown, a novel which also revolves around something bad that threatens to tear the small town apart, although in that case the evil is from the human, non-magical world. Ana is unapologetically herself in a town that demands conformity, and fiercely loyal to her friend — a type of magic in itself.
But back to The Circle, where the girls' powers include invisibility, mind control, and starting fires. They learn to control these while also building new and surprising friendships.
The narrative flits between different viewpoints which makes it a book that rewards you for reading it in longer stints, getting to know the characters.
You'll need to buy into the magical world and find a way to relate to (at least some of) the protagonists to make it worth the 500-page read. Then it's a book that will surprise you with its twists, and with the ability to make a fantasy world feel real.
Want to read more about the history of Swedish folklore and witches? These articles from The Local's archives will give you a start:
- Swedish word of the day: häxa
- Easter in Sweden: when the witches come out to play
- Secrets of Swedish witch hunt revealed
Here's what else Book Club members had to say about The Circle:
“I already read the trilogy and the book club picking it as a book to read was the reason I joined. I loved the trilogy overall, but I remember in the first book there was just a tad too much teenage angst and drama for me. I absolutely adored every moment where the characters were learning magic or using it though” – Emilė Kalvelytė
“I read it and really liked it. I liked that each of the characters is so different and well developed. They have very distinct personalities which correspond to their elements and powers. They complement each other even though they resist it at first.
“It’s a shame that we lose two elements early on because it would have been good to discover what a full circle can do. I think I will probably read the other two novels as well and find out what happens next. As with Backman, I didn’t find it particularly Swedish as a novel but since it’s pure fantasy it doesn’t matter to the story. Perfect read for these times when reality far exceeds (horror) fiction” – Samantha Hammell
What to read next: If you loved reading about these teenage witches, you could try Akata Witch, also called What Sunny Saw in the Flames, by Nnedi Okorafor, although this is aimed at slightly younger readers. Twelve-year-old Sunny Nwazue has a slightly more structured environment to learn about magic than the witches in The Circle, but that doesn't mean things are easy for her.