This feels like such a timely read for this present moment and I’m so happy to be delving back into some fantasy.
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.
It seems Alix E. Harrow has done it again, I absolutely adored her debut The Ten Thousand Doors of January and was confident that I would feel the same about The Once and Future Witches. I had no idea quite how consumed I would become by this book, staying up a lot later than usual trying to keep my tired eyes open just to get to the end of the next chapter and telling myself it would be the last one, which of course it never was.
The writing style is divine, wonderfully expressive and atmospheric, it effortlessly drew me into the story and kept me transfixed until the last page. Throughout this story there is an anger of injustice and circumstance and I loved that the author was able to keep this burning, take it to its darkest depths but still inject that ray of hope and keep you cresting on a tumultuous wave with no idea of where you are going to end up.
I loved the recognition and nostalgia of the spells made from popular rhymes and the fairytales and fables recreated, it gave me this feeling of a shared history and a bond with the characters, made me feel like a part of the sisterhood. Also because of the sense of community that it created, the idea of shared knowledge having inherent power rather than some mystical force just made me so happy.
This book is really driven by the Eastwood sisters, Beatrice Belladonna, Agnes Amaranth and James Juniper. It was beautiful getting to see them find their way back to each other from the initial hurt and mistrust, that they all had such horrors in their lives as children but managed to come through it determined to survive and eventually thrive.
The characterisation was stellar I love how they were all so different but find commonality in their cause and even when one of them did something that the others might not agree with, they still supported each other. Usually, I would say I have a favourite but in this case, I adored them all, I think because I could see a little of myself reflected in all of them.
Whilst the Eastwood sisters are at the centre of the story there are so many more characters that are a part of this journey, that are fighting for the cause even though it represents a far greater danger for them. I especially loved Cleo Quinn, her mysterious comings and goings and complete self-assuredness.
There are some big themes in this book and even though it is set in the 1890’s it still draws on issues that are relevant in today’s society – gender inequality, racial inequality and sexual orientation inequality. Even at the bleakest parts of the story, the message throughout the book was so hopeful, to keep being strong in our communities and fighting for what we believe in even when it is difficult, that acceptance and love will prevail over hate.
The Once and Future Witches is a magical, emotional and empowering journey that I have loved every minute of (yes even when I was angry and upset) and I am already waiting with excited anticipation for the next wonder that Alix E. Harrow comes up with.
I’ve been a student and a teacher, a farm-worker and a cashier, an ice-cream-scooper and a 9-to-5 office-dweller. I’ve lived in tents and cars, cramped city apartments and lonely cabins, and spent a summer in a really sweet ’79 VW Vanagon Westfalia. I have library cards in at least five states.
Now I’m a full-time writer living in with my husband and two semi-feral kids in Berea, Kentucky. It is, I’m very sure, the best of all possible worlds.
My writing is represented by Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.
Reviews of other Alix E. Harrow books
The Ten Thousand Doors of January