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.


Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow #wyrdandwonder

W&WIMAGE CREDITS: Flaming phoenix by Sujono Sujono | Decorative phoenix by Tanantachai Sirival

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  For the month of May I will be joining up this event with Wyrd and Wonder and highlighting fantasy books.  This week my book is : The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow.  Oh yes, hell yes. The Ten Thousand Doors of January was one of my top ten reads of 2019.  I loved it and so Alix E Harrow shot to my authors that I absolutely must read list.  And, if that wasn’t reason enough check out the description below – because WITCHES.

TheOnceIn 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.

Due for publication: October 2020