The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Themes: adult fantasy, historical fiction, witches, magic

The synopsis

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 review

The Once and Future Witches introduces the story of three sisters thanks to a poetic writing, full of historical details. It’s not always easy to picture an era that isn’t yours but the precise historical elements allow the reader to fully immerse in the society of New Salem during the year 1893. As I said, the writing is quite poetic and so is the magic system, based on tales and songs passed from one woman to another.

The reader discovers all these elements through the eyes of the Eastwood sisters. I’ve already spoken about my issues with plot having multiple narrators but I found the transition between the sisters’ narrations to be very fluid. I had no attachment to any character, even if I liked Juniper’s sharp tongue and hot temper, maybe because they were a bit stubborn and naive in their acts. They are less than perfect but it makes them much more human. I also had trouble with the large number of characters, some of them being present only in the beginning and at the end of the novel and thus difficult to remember. However, we have enough elements on each character and particularly the sisters to be involved in the story and continue reading.

The thing I liked the most was how Alix E. Harrow used history to tackle social issues that are still a part of our societies today. Witchcraft is just an excuse to create a plot evolving around the fight for equality and justice, and these for everyone. I agree with the representation of social movements this book presents. There isn’t one side fighting against another. Instead, you have people with different ideas and values that are sometimes somewhat similar. And some of these people are ready to betray others because they don’t have exactly the same representation of a subject.

In brief: I clearly enjoyed this book, even if I had difficulties reading its middle part which was too slow for me. The world and characters have enough depth to be interesting and are really all humans with their flaws, the Eastwood sisters included. It’s interesting to see how history and fantasy can be used to talk about important topics such as gender or racial equality.

My rating: 4/5

Warnings (there’s a lot): child abuse, mind control, abortion, racism, sexism, homophobia, allusion to torture and sexual assault

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