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 three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten 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 must 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.
The Once and Future Witches by US author Alix E. Harrow was an absolute delight. Following three sisters who meet unplanned after years apart in New Salem, drawn by an inexplicable magic, and caught in a half-spun spell to summon the Lost Tower of Avalon, dislodged in time and space, waiting for the next three witches with enough need to summon it back.
The oldest sister, Bella, is a librarian working at the New Salem College library. An unmarried woman who quickly finds herself drawn to the exotic and welcoming Ms Cleo, a black female reporter with more than a little hint of magic about herself. The middle sister Agnes, is beautiful and strong enduring a menial job as a mill-girl just to keep her independence. A strong woman whose beauty would allow the pick of any men, if Agnes would allow herself to be loved. But Agnes must choose to be supported by others, especially when she is with child and finds the stronger love in a man who isn’t the child’s father. While the youngest sister, Juniper, is a wild and fierce young woman intent on taking the male dominated society down so women (and witches) might assume their rightful place as leaders and advisers.
In the meeting of these three estranged sisters, bonds are rekindled and a other women across New Salem join their cause to have more than what is handed to them, to make certain their daughters have better lives than they did. But a dark spectre hangs over New Salem, an ancient malevolence that is determined to see the last of the witches crushed once and for all beneath a boot-heel.
The Once and Future Witches was a wonderfully well-written novel with strong, detailed characters and a thrilling alternate history of 1893 and the post-Salem witch burnings. Beautifully paced storytelling with exquisite detail, this was such an strong book.
Highly recommended read for those who enjoy historical fantasy, alternate history, magical realism and more than a dash of folklore. A must-read!