“An homage to the indomitable power and persistence of women, The Once and Future Witches reimagines stories of revolution, sapphic love, motherhood, and women’s suffrage–the lost ways are calling.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow is powerful, magical and very memorable.
It is 1836 and there are no such thing as witches any more, all that remains are a few simple charms and some knowledge about herbs passed down from one woman to another, hidden for fear of the burnings that destroyed so many families and towns in the past. When women go looking for power now they seek it in the ballot box, and the suffrage movement is on the rise in the town of New Salem despite opposition from the political elite.
When James Juniper Eastwood flees to the city in an attempt to escape her past, she does not expect to be reunited with the sisters who left her behind years before, Beatrice Belladonna and Agnes Amaranth. As a reader we get to see parts of the story from each of these women’s perspectives and learn about the troubled upbringing they shared and the arguments and misunderstandings that tore them apart. Each of the three is very different, and the author has done a wonderful job of bringing each of them to life and imbuing them with distinct attributes and personalities. Ultimately the three will have to come together if there is any hope of saving magic and saving the city from a dark force that threatens to gain control. James Juniper is the determined firebrand, ready to set the world on fire if that is what it takes. Agnes Amaranth is more cautious, especially since she has more to care about and more to lose. Beatrice Belladonna is the bookish one who is questioning her growing attraction to a fellow scholar. Each of them have reasons to fear and distrust the others but they also love one another as only sisters can. Through her characters the author is able to explore topics like feminism, racism and discrimination in a powerful and compelling way that is an integral and important part of the story.
The world building and magic system in this book is wonderful, it takes the familiar idea of the Three, the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, and in many ways turns it on its head. I also loved how the author was able to weave various well known and beloved fairy tales into the story , using them as vehicles for the hidden knowledge of magic. The author also incorporates real world history and historical figures into the book, particularly when it comes to the suffrage aspects of the story. As the title suggests , there is a strong theme of history repeating itself and this is layered over the course of the book. While the characters really drive the book, the plot is also really well developed and moves steadily towards a dramatic and empowering conclusion, and the use of language is simply beautiful, as I would have expected having read the author’s previous book, the Ten Thousand Doors of January. It has a wonderful lyrical quality and an almost fairy tale feel at times. I loved this book about sisterhood and empowerment and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
Added 17th November 2020