The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publishing Info: eARC from Orbit
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
Thank you so much to Orbit and NetGallery for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Once and Future Witches is a well-written and expertly crafted exploration of magic and feminism. Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, made a big splash, so there have been big expectations for her follow up. I haven’t yet read The Ten Thousand Doors of January, so The Once and Future Witches is my first time reading her work. I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the writing. It’s lyrical and captivating, perhaps like a magic spell, which is why it suits this story so well.
The historical setting, the women’s movement and witches are woven together so well. It really works. I loved how magic is done through words from rhymes and stories passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. There are also some subtle and clever changes to history and literature, such as the Sisters Grimm instead of the Brothers Grimm. The rights of witches and the rights of women are tightly connected in this book and shows the struggles women faced in the 1890s. It isn’t just a story of witches and magic, it’s also deeply thought-provoking.
It did take me a little while to get into the story and feel connected to the characters. But at some point, I just clicked with this book and ended up being totally invested in the story of the three sisters. At the beginning they are estranged and we get to see how their relationships grow and develop as the book progresses.
Alix E. Harrow took me on an unpredictable journey with twists and turns. At the midpoint, I wondered where the book could go next, but there was plenty more for the three sisters to content with before the conclusion. Having said that, I did find the pacing a bit slow in places, especially in sections of the second half where the characters are on the run. There were some very intense and suspenseful scenes, but in between those parts I wasn’t as gripped.
This enchanting story of sisterhood and women’s rights works well as a standalone and has a satisfying conclusion. By the end of this book, Juniper, Agnes and Bella had a special place in my heart. I will certainly be looking out for more of Alix E. Harrow’s work.