I’m so excited to talk about this book with you. Because if you’re reading this, you’re probably an Alice Hoffman/Practical Magic fan like me, and you’re awaiting the new book Magic Lessons, about Maria Owens, the matriarch of the Owens family from Practical Magic, the one who was the first in a long line of witches…
We know a little about Maria, who escaped being hanged for witchcraft and who put a curse on her own descendants, from the books Practical Magic (1995) and The Rules of Magic (2017), but here we get her full story, starting in 1664. The book takes us from rural England, where Maria is found abandoned as a baby, along the path of Maria’s life to wind up in Massachusetts. The title is so fitting because Maria learns lessons about magic from the woman who finds and raises her, Hannah Owens, from who she takes her last name, and later from other women who have different concepts about magic and it’s place and meaning. Later in the book, Maria has a daughter, and there more more lessons about magic and lessons that magic teaches them both about life and survival. The book isn’t all about lessons, it’s more like a really nice theme of the book.
Alice Hoffman writes stories about love and survival, with some wonderful lead characters. Her books often celebrate female relationships and the female spirit, but her characters are put through a lot. I really like this about her books. Her characters are real survivors, and their survival makes us think of our own paths, our own life lessons. She’s also influenced by fairytales, by the magic in them, the trials and darkness that these stories show us. Not the sanitized, bedtime story versions, but by the rich archetypal layers to be found in the originals. Some of her books are definitely in the Magic Realism genre, and she is a master at this. I love the way magic and the lessons of fairytales are very much grounded in the everyday in her books.
I really liked this book. I love the Owens family and I loved getting to know Maria and I never guessed where the book was going. Here Hoffman has beautifully created the world of the time for us. I was really interested by the details, but it never felt like reading an encyclopedia. She shows us the points of everyday life, about indentured servants, the whys and wherefores of the colours of Puritans clothing, and descriptions of what gruel and apple pan dowdy is, details that evoke the world of another time but also explain a lot and give us the everyday world anew.
I also really like the hints of the earlier novels. Plant lavender for luck. What it means when a broom falls or a little girl who can jump off a roof without injury are things we recognise, but they’re in service to the story, so we’re familiar but it’s never pandering or fan service. Also, speaking of familiars, I love the crow in this book.
As someone who loves this book and the magic all through it’s pages, and the Owens family (I want to live in the house in Practical Magic) I found a lot to enjoy here. Being more critical, I would say it feels a little less tightly plotted than her other novels in this series. Maria makes some decisions that I think are kind of foolish, like trying to be her witchy self in Salem or not seeing the covetous gleam in a neighbors eye that leads her to trust a very bad woman. But really, I think she’s young and doesn’t have the historical hindsight that we have. I think you could also argue that the ending is too nice. Does that non-miserable end undermine the world of the start of Practical Magic? I don’t think so, but maybe.
You don’t have to have read the other books about this family to read this one, so if you love a magical read, try this book. It has a load of great ingredients that Hoffman always handles so well: life, death, birth, love, intuition, the courage it takes to feel, the curses we put on ourselves, and how we lift them.
Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada, who not only sent me a copy of the ARC of the book for review, but didn’t yell at me via email for asking them about this book for months before it came out. Yes, I love Alice Hoffman, but all opinions in this post are my own honest thoughts.
Magic Lessons is out October 2020.