Book Review

The Once And Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches

  • Author: Alix E. Harrow
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 13, 2020
  • Publisher: Orbit

TRIGGER WARNING: homophobia, racism, sexism, torture, imprisonment, mention of abuse, kidnapping, mention of harm to an animal

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“I am terrified and I am terrible. I am fearful and I am something to be feared.”

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 witches’ movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces that 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.

Have you ever picked up a book, not quite knowing what you were getting into, and found yourself just … unable to put it down, finding yourself so invested in the story that you devour the book, desperate for more? Yeah, that’s what this book was for me. 

Alix E. Harrow has crafted a brilliant story, with incredible characters that I wanted to become friends with and join the cause!

This book took everything that we’ve been told about witches and fairy tales and nursery rhymes and turned it all upside down. Unapologetically. And I didn’t mind one bit.

The fairy tales are interspersed with the story itself. They’re recognizable, although some are changed a little bit. Instead of these stories being lessons in morality and tales of what happens to wicked children who don’t listen or follow directions, they all seem to revolve around the overarching theme of misunderstood women — witches aren’t evil, but perhaps women who have been wronged or hurt. Maybe they aren’t the villain but the victim in the story who have gained some power and lash out at the actual villains. And as usual, when the less privileged gain some sort of power or privilege, they are maligned and painted in the most negative light. Historically, for women, this has been to be labeled as a witch and ends with tragic results. But what happens if that were to change?

“She remembers asking Mags when she was little if witching was wicked. Mags had cackled. Wickedness is in the eye of the beholder, baby. But then she sobered. She said witching was power and any power could be perverted, if you were willing to pay the price. You can tell the wickedness of a witch by the wickedness of her ways.

The story begins like most others — with three sisters. They’re all scarred by a horrible upbringing, but they’re survivors. They have the three things that are essential for witching: the words, the ways, and the will. And while they’ve been separated by circumstances beyond their control, they manage to converge in New Salem, the city without sin, on the spring equinox. With their unique strengths and characteristics, they decide to empower the town, starting with the suffrage movement:

“James Juniper is the wild sister, fearless as a fox and curious as a crow … Agnes Amaranth is the strong sister, steady as a stone and twice as hard … Beatrice Belladonna is the wise sister, quiet and clever as an owl in the rafters…”

Of course they encounter plenty of resistance. The men in charge want to keep the women weak and oppressed, and are willing to do anything to avoid changing the status quo in their town. There’s sinister things going on in New Salem, and it affects all the women, not just the Eastwood sisters. These three women want to create lasting change for all women, and make a safer world for the women who are oppressed on all sides.

“‘And your daughters. They’re safe, you think?’ The frozen eyes narrow. Agnes presses. ‘They’ll grow without knowing hunger or want or a man’s hand raised against them?’”

I loved every minute of this book, and each page felt like a tribute to women, sisterhood, love, healing, and strength. Somehow, even in the midst of the major plot points, the author managed to weave in not just one, but two slow-burn romances that were so natural and never felt forced. It was a stunning book and I lost myself completely in this gorgeous book that made me feel like witchcraft is accessible to all of us. 

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

4 replies »

  1. I’ve seen quite a few mixed reviews about this book but after reading your review, I think I’ll definitely be adding this to my TBR! It sounds like such a badass and empowering story for women/girls to read 😍 Love the quotes you shared as well — especially the first one! Fabulous review, Leah!

    Liked by 1 person

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