The Once And Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

Three estranged sisters are reunited in a strange city when one of them reads out a charm found in a library book. Drawn together, they each catch a glimpse of a tower that they have only heard of in stories. A tower where three powerful witches may have escaped with the last of the worlds magic. They must decide whether to band together and bring back magic, giving women back the power they once had, or separate again and stay safe but unhappy.

In the world of this book, women once had magic and power, but it was taken from them and all that remains are a few simple spells. Women are second class citizens, and black people or anyone who doesn’t fit the status quo are even lower than that. It’s a mix of Victorian era aesthetic, stories from Salem (the town is called New Salem) and from the Suffragette movement, and peppered with re-written but familiar fairytales and legends. The book has a really interesting atmosphere because of these, feeling both recognizable but also different. I thought this aspect of the book was really well done.

The sisters are fun characters too. Each has her own secret that she feels she can’t share, and each has her own little arc in the story. They loosely correspond to the Maiden/Mother/Crone archetypes, the youngest being independent and still a little childish, the middle being pregnant, and the eldest being a bookish librarian. The book is inclusive and has diverse characters, not just by having black characters but also queer and lesbian ones. Put like this, it might sound like ticking a tokenistic box, but it doesn’t read that way at all. The book is quite open in being about Feminism, and takes on women’s Suffrage and things like sexism and misogyny in it’s plotting. And it has fun with these ideas.

My problem with it is that it has some cliché moments, like the kind of misunderstandings that would easily be cleared up with a simple conversation, but the characters keep avoiding talking in order to keep the drama going. Also, the bad guy is one dimensional and seemingly all powerful until he’s suddenly and conveniently not. And the leads hold onto their issues but then suddenly get over them. It’s just a little convenient.

It’s also very long. The writing just isn’t very tight.

I thought about this. I enjoyed aspects of this book a lot and I’m glad I read it, but I realised that the things that bothered me are the things that young adults don’t mind or even they they even like. So realistically, this book is really good for it’s target audience, I think. I would have loved this book when I was 18.

Read It If: a nicely built world that the author has a lot of fun with, and diverse characters and thought provoking themes, but is definitely targeted at it’s chosen audience demographic, the YA reader, and will please them the most.

Thank you HBG Canada for the review copy of this book. All opinions are my own honest thoughts.

The Once And Future Witches is out now.

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