Hello Humans! Today I’m reviewing the latest book from Alix E Harrow and I’m phenomenally excited to have received an ARC of this book mainly because my name and quote is in the inside back cover – life goal ticked off!
So will this witchy book live up to the high standards of Ten Thousand Doors of January?
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.
I was a little concerned going into this book that I was going to have to have another discussion about where we draw the line with historical fantasy – what is fair game to talk about and what isn’t. While that discussion is still important in this case I think it’s less pertinent because, while this book references the Salem witch trials – we’re actually talking about the 1800s rather than the late 1600s – so while things in the US still weren’t great for women (as this book acknowledges) we’re not dealing with innocent women who were actually murdered so I personally felt ok with this one.
It also helps that this book did what I’ve been asking almost every historical fantasy book I read lately to do – it set up right at the start that magic was possible and what various attitudes towards magic were. So in this case we’re dealing with a world where magic can happen, most people do know a little bit of magic, there is a divide between ‘male and female’ magic, and some people don’t like people doing it- for the most part with religious justification. All that within the first couple of chapters – perfection.
But, whether people like it or not magic is happening and our three sisters use magic to do various things. I liked the way that magic was done in this book, the idea of oral history and passing down snippets of spells and the general….community nature of it felt very realistic – while also serving the plot. I liked the idea that magic was something to be shared with other women, which also ties into the idea of empowering women which is yet another theme of this book. Yes to this alternate reality where instead of being transphobic mumsnet is a place for sharing spells. (That’s not what this book is I just like imagining it…)
I really liked the plot of this book, I liked the way that the three sisters all had a major part to play in the story – very rarely do I enjoy all the perspectives in a multiple POV book but actually I don’t know that I could pick a favourite sister…
I enjoyed the way that the plot built and changed as the book went on – I wish I could put my finger on which book this reminded me of but the way that the major antagonist was revealed was something familiar (in a really good way). I was captivated and engaged through to the very end and I may have shed a tear or two at certain moments.
This book also contains some LGBTQ+ representation with the major ‘letter’ there being the L (or B….it isn’t labelled) with one of the sisters being a owman who loves women. I liked this plot a lot and though there were a few moments where I was concerned we were going to slip into unpleasant tropes for the most part this book did well. There is a small amount of trans representation but all I can really say is it is there and isn’t ‘bad’ it just isn’t very relevant to most of the book. But still – good to recognise trans women in a book that takes women’s suffrage as a major theme.
Overall I had a great time reading this book, I’m so pleased it managed to stay away from all the pitfalls that I was concerned about. It’s just a fun read, and an empowering one. It recognises how rubbish things were (and are) for women (in an intersectional way might I add) but manages to paint that in a hopeful way.
Yes. Would recommend.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley and also physically – all opinions are my own.
The Once and Future Witches publishes October 15th!
What say you? Will you be reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!