The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

TheonceandMy Five Word TL:DR Review : More than meets the eye

On the face of it TOaFW is a tale of three sisters reuniting and creating magic during a turbulent period when such activity was forbidden. However, at the same time its a story that is so much more than the sum of its parts.  It’s a tale of strife but also a tale of hope, of women remembering the power of words and the power of unity and using both these things as a catalyst for change.

Future Witches is an alternate history, set in America during the 1800s.  The industrial revolution has made its appearance and factories and industry are booming (for some), meanwhile, work and living conditions, particularly for women and children, are dire indeed.  This is a period of women’s suffrage, when women began to realise that they needed a vote to make their voices heard and this quest for emancipation led them to discover their own inner strength.

I won’t over elaborate on the plot as there are already numerous excellent reviews that do so.  Briefly, Future Witches is about three sisters, literally and figuratively, finding themselves again and during the process inspiring other women to stand up for their rights.  Of course, there is much more to it than that but I’m aiming for ‘short and snappy’ here.

What worked really well for me in particular.

The writing.  Harrow has a fantastic way with words. She is indeed a master storyteller but more than the lovely words, strung together in a fashion that is mesmerising in itself, is her innate ability to conjure a place so strongly and populate it with such incredibly distinct characters.  The three sisters could easily become blurred and yet they have clear voices and personalities and a sad tale that will eventually unfold as the story progresses.

There’s also a charm about this that belies the violence of the times and this is built upon by the witchcraft used here.  Basically, witching never went away, instead it has been passed down through the generations in the most subtle way using rhymes and songs.  I couldn’t help but be put in mind of Norrell and Strange to a certain extent, I think simply in terms of the magic and the way that belief strongly plays into the ability to wield it.    For me, the magic in the story is a symbol that represents something else – power, maybe, or ‘rights’, the right to be equal and have some measure of control, the right to decide what happens to you.

The tension really builds and the grande finale is the unlikeliest combination of horrifying, bittersweet and yet strangely satisfying all rolled together.

In terms of criticisms.  Not really a criticism so much as an observation.  This is a story that requires time and patience.  It’s not really a story that you can race through and in fact the early chapters are quite slow paced but the payoff is worth every moment and in fact I would recommend that you savour the words. I would also mention that although this book is very much about women standing together that’s not to say that along the way they didn’t have help from some very good men.  Just thought I’d chuck that in for good measure.

Any misgivings or worries that I may have harboured when picking this up, purely because the author’s debut was such a resounding success and surely difficult to top, have been firmly laid to rest.

I highly recommend this one and look forward to seeing what journey this author will take us on next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars.

18 Responses to “The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow”

  1. Tammy

    I’m glad you loved this, its one of my favorite books of the year😁

    • @lynnsbooks

      I took a little while to find my feet but once I did I loved it.
      Lynn 😀

  2. onceuponanelderberry

    Ahh I have this and haven’t read it yet! I wasn’t sure it was going to be for me… but I’ll definitely pick it up now! Great review!

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This is one of the novels I keep meaning to read, and with each new review I read I feel guilty for not having picked it up already…

    • @lynnsbooks

      Haha, I felt guilty too because I was a little late getting to this one.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    This sounds amazing – it’s on the list of books I get to choose from for my catch-up/mood-read month. Your review might have just bumped it up a few slots 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      Surprisingly, I struggled to get into it at first and in fact stopped reading for a little while but when I returned it hooked me.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Ola G

    I’m really really intrigued by this, and your is another glowing review – if I’m not careful, I might end up reading this! 😂

  6. pagesandtea

    I do love a book you can take your time over because the writing is so good. I’m hoping to finally read Ten Thousand Doors soon but this one will also have a place on my wishlist, especially if there’s something a little Strange and Norrell about it. Glad you enjoyed this 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you love both. Ithink Ten Thousand Doors was probably my favourite. It was such a love letter to book lovers.
      Lynn 😀

  7. waytoofantasy

    Ooooh, even more excited to read this now! Hopefully can squeeze it in before year end but the days are passing more quickly than I’d like LOL.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I know, why is the time flying by so fast. Although, tbf, I will be glad to see the back of 2020.
      Lynn 😀

  8. sjhigbee

    A wonderful and very fair-minded review… It took me a while to get into this one – but I think you are right. It was the denseness of the characterisation and scene setting, which are beautifully conveyed, but I did have to slow right down my reading pace to better appreciate it. I thought the magic was a wonderful metaphor that worked on so many levels.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, slow start but beautiful writing – I couldn’t help but be sucked in, even if it took me a little longer than I expected picking it up.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Oh yes – the power and polish of the writing is undeniable. As well as brilliant characterisation, though it took me a while to warm to any of the characters.

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yes, me too 😀

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