Book Review

Magic Lessons

Magic Lessons

  • Author: Alice Hoffman
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 6, 2020
  • Publisher: Simon Schuster
  • Series: Practical Magic #0.1

CONTENT WARNING: harm to an animal, death of an animal, domestic violence, murder, slavery, antisemitism, religious intolerance, self-harm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem and matriarch of the Owens family featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

Where does the story of the Owens family bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Nameless Art.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift, and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

When Maria is betrayed by the man who once declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it is here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson she will carry with her for the rest of her life: Love is the only thing that matters.

Magic Lessons is a celebration of life and love and a showcase of Alice Hoffman’s masterful storytelling. 

I’ve loved the movie Practical Magic since the first time I’ve seen it, many years ago. It’s only recently that I found out that it was based on a book, and that it was also a series. And while browsing through my local library, I came upon the prequel, and figured that I’d start reading the series from the beginning. 

By the end of the first chapter, I knew that I loved Hoffman’s writing style. I was drawn into this world of women who lived outside of the rules of society, simply by existing and practicing the Nameless Art, magic, witchcraft, whatever it is called. Right from the start, it’s clear that Maria is not destined to live a normal life — she has a familiar watching over her as a baby, when she is found abandoned in a field. Hannah Owens, the woman who finds her, teaches her the basics of magic and how to protect herself in a world that aims to suppress women with autonomy and power. It’s hard not to love both Hannah and Maria right from the start.

It was sometimes beautiful to watch Maria’s journey through life, but more often painful; knowing that she was making mistakes and being unable to stop her. However, she was amazing and strong and smart, and learned from her mistakes. And she always kept in mind the lessons she was taught early in life by Hannah:

“Her fate was tied to this book as if her future had been written with indelible ink. On the first page were the rules of magic, ones Hannah had declared they were obliged to follow.

Do as you will, but harm no one.

What you give will be returned to you threefold.”

Throughout the story, love was a theme. Maria primarily made her living by helping women seeking love, seeking cures for it, helping women escape it, but she also spent a good deal of her life both seeking it and working to escape it, as well as coping with the aftereffects of her own choices related to love. 

“Love begins in curious ways, in daylight or in darkness, when you are in search of it or when you least expect to find it. You may think it is one thing, when in fact it is something else entirely: infatuation, loneliness, seduction.”

Like so much of life, one rash decision has harsh consequences that carry over into the rest of not only Maria’s life, but also for that of generations of Owens women to come … and the men who love them. 

“‘To any man who ever loves an Owens, let this curse befall you, let your fate lead to disaster, let you be broken in body and soul, and may it be that you never recover.’”

I loved the historical facts presented throughout this story, as well as how the characters developed. They’re shown as people — flawed and realistic, rash and wise, strong and damaged, wise and foolish in equal measure. It was surprising to me to realize that there was Jewish representation in the story, but I enjoyed seeing how it played out. One of the major side characters, who plays a huge role in much of the story is a Sephardic Jew who escaped the Inquisition, but not the devastating effects of the trauma associated with it. Many of the characters are morally gray, and it made them feel even more realistic, because they live in difficult times when they were forced to make hard decisions. 

I’m completely hooked on the series, and completely enamored of the magical world that Hoffman has built. I’m even more curious to see how the book is similar and different from the movie, and will definitely be continuing on with this series. Hoffman is an incredible writer, and has succeeded in fully captivating me with this book.

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: 14

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