If you’re on the hunt for the perfect witchy read this Halloween, then look no further than The Once and Future Witches! An amazingly ethereal read, Alix E. Harrow’s new novel combines compellingly powerful female characters with a spine-tingling recreation of patriarchal New Salem and a plot that will unite witches everywhere! I loved it! Huge thanks to NetGalley, Orbit and Alix E. Harrow for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Book: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fantasy
Publication Date: October 15th 2020
Publisher: Orbit / Little, Brown UK
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
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.
Right from the very first page, The Once and Future Witches had such a distinctive, atmospheric tone that I actually felt as if I had stepped into a vortex and travelled back in time to 1890s New Salem. The way the opening captures and introduces each Eastwood sister… it’s one of the best openings to a story I’ve read in a long time, it hooked me right in. Harrow’s storytelling was so sharp and effervescent; every single word and sentence meticulously crafted to transport the reader right into the hearts and minds of the Eastwood sisters – I loved it! Language and writing style are so important to me as a reader and the way Harrow told her story is by far my absolute, favourite thing about this novel.
The story is told through the three perspectives of the Eastwood sisters and each one has their own different style linking to their personalities. James Juniper is wild, feisty and headstrong, Agnes Amaranth has a strong moral compass and an iron will to protect her own and Beatrice Belladonna calls out to every book-loving nerdigan out there. I found there was something to relate to in all of them and I was interested in reading every narrative equally rather than favouring one character over another.
What’s more, these characters are on a mission! The way the rights of women is merged with the rights of witches – all of that anger and vengeance from oppression and the patriarchy is turned into determined action which keeps driving the storyline forwards like an ongoing march without making the storyline come across as aggressive. A slow-burn Sapphic relationship also sprinkled a little romance into the mix allowing one of the main characters to really come into her own.
The subversion of famous historical male figures was like little Easter Eggs which I loved looking out for. Iterations to the heritage of witches with the presence of the Crone, the Mother, the Maiden and Familiars sang out to my inner history geek whilst the featuring of Avalon and a quest to revive the witching ways by hiding it underneath everyday women’s work appealed to my love of treasure hunting and puzzles.
All in all, The Once and Future Witches was exactly the novel I needed to get me right in the mood for spooky season. It is also one of my favourite representations of witches I’ve read for a long time. A beautifully-written, action-packed piece of witch-lore with characters I will be championing long into the future.
A new witch-tale, for a new world.
Behind every witch, is a woman wronged.
That’s all magic is really: the space between what you have and what you need.
If you want to blame someone for a fire, look for the men holding matches.
You can tell the wickedness of a witch by the wickedness of her ways.
Why Should I Read This?
For a writing style and atmosphere so brilliantly crafted it will suck you into the pages and back in time.
For the incredible narratives and characters of three very different yet sassy and fierce Eastwood sisters.
For a brilliant blend of contemporary female values intertwined with the heritage of witching and the suffragists.