December Countdown, Day 13 : Feast

December book meme (details here).  Feast – a book that was magnificent: this is a feast for the mind and the eye.


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.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

TenthousandOh my giddy aunt – this book just blew me away.  It’s like a love letter to fantasy fiction readers.  It left me thinking of so many things all at once and put me in mind of Narnia, Wonderland, Pan’s Labyrinth and Middle Earth whilst being nothing like any of those things.  A book of infinite possibilities filled with doors, locks and keys and wonderful characters.  This is a literary masterpiece that is just begging to become a classic and by the time I put this down I had goosebumps breaking out and tears threatening to spill.  The only problem I now have is how to write a review that does this book justice.

Well, I’ll start off with my one issue or possible criticism – simply to get it out of the way early and to give you a hint of what you might expect.  This is a book with a slow start.  I would say it took me almost 30% of the story to become really invested – now that might sound a bit much but maybe take that with a pince of salt because I can be something of an eager beaver when I first start a new book and the early chapters, whilst beautifully written are primarily setting up the stall.  We meet January and are introduced to her special circumstances.  January and her father live under the care of an incredibly wealthy man named Locke.  Locke has a huge estate and his mansion is packed to the rafters with antiquities.  January’s father is employed by Locke to recover ancient artefacts and whilst he is away (for huge amounts of time) January remains under the custody of Locke.  Locke also travels extensively and often takes January with him.  During one of these excursions and whilst January is still only a little girl she stumbles upon a doorway to a different place.  Of course her little adventure is deemed the nonsensical fancies of a young mind and as a result she finds herself under careful scrutiny from then onwards and until she can prove that she can behave like a rational young lady.  The years move on and apart from January receiving a few mysterious gifts little of substance really takes place other than her discovery of a book that tells a strange adventure and a tale of love, she receives a puppy and then a mystery woman comes to stay with her to act as companion (at the request of her father).  Then, out of the blue, January receives news that completely shatter her world.

I’m not going to go any further into the plot to be honest.  This is such an unusual story, and quite unlike anything I can recall reading before, that I don’t want to give anything away.  So, other than a slightly slow start during which I become more and more curious about where the story was going I can say without hesitation that this is a beautifully crafted story.  Just take your time and be patient with it and all will become clear and as far as I’m concerned it’s absolutely, without doubt, worth the effort.  To be honest, I wish that I’d taken this read slower to start with but I’m always in such a rush, so impatient to see what comes next and racing through the pages like some sort of raging maniac.  Don’t be me.  Take the time to enjoy the introduction – this is a book that I will definitely return to and next time around I will read it like a grown up and show it the respect it deserves.

In terms of world building.  There’s so much going on here that I can’t really begin to outline it.  We start the story around 1900/1901 – I can’t recall exactly the year but it was deemed to be a time of infinite possibilities. To all extents January lives an incredibly privileged life in a large house and grounds.  She never completely fits in though and often experiences bouts of loneliness, longing to accompany her father on one of his adventures but of course being forbidden due to the potential danger.  The author tells a story within a story and so we get to experience more than a few different places, all brought vividly to life on the page.

The writing style – well, it’s something that I loved.  In fairness you might say it’s detailed but I think it’s necessary and really gives a feeling for the period.

The characters are very well done.  January is great to read about, particularly watching her progression from a meek and mild young woman to somebody who will stand up for herself.  She experiences a number of awful encounters that really shake her out of her naivety although she still grasps on to a certain amount of innocence and longing for people to be better than they are right up to the bitter end.  As I mentioned, January has been sheltered for most her life, without the protective umbrella of a wealthy custodian she feels the true weight of prejudice and hate that are held at bay by money and position. I’m being a bit vague here, not wanting to unwittingly supply spoilers.  There is a baddy to this story but the main focus revolves around a secret society, if you will, a gentleman’s club with very restricted access.  I actually loved reading the story of January’s parents and the way that both the stories eventually come together in such a satisfying way.

So, what else can I tell you.  In a nutshell, portals, coming of age, many different worlds and experiences, gothic goodness, asylums, different cultures, family ties, friends, love and a great dog called Bad.

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

I would rate this 5 stars