The Once and Future Witchesby Alix E. Harrow
Setting: United States
Published on October 13, 2020
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 Eastwood sisters--James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna--join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and 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 will need to 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.
I heard about this book from a retweet of a tweet from the author. She said that one of the weirdest complaints that she gets about this book is that it was too political. She said she didn’t know what people expected from a book about lesbian suffragette witches. I was in.
I listened to this on audio and I think that was the best choice for me. The writing is very lyrical and descriptive. That style tends to bore me when I am reading. I’m a get to the point kind of person. It was soothing on audio though.
The story is set in an alternate Massachusetts where witches are real but shunned. Most every woman knows a little spell or two passed down from their mothers and grandmothers. That’s not really witching though, is it? When a group of estranged sisters accidentally trigger the reappearance of a mysterious black tower, women start to be more forthcoming about what they can really do. Not everyone is pleased.
I loved the fact that most of the witch knowledge has been passed down in fairy tales. The book includes a lot of gender-bent fairy tales where the women and girls are the powerful ones. Those were fun.
I was a bit afraid that this book was going to get a little too White Savior at points. The three sisters are white women who are bumbling through and not really knowing what they are doing. They are helped by an order of Black witches who have been honing their magic for a long time. It was feeling a bit like the Black women have been doing the work and now the white folks are going to swoop in and take the credit. It veered away from that some but it is still there. The story was self-aware enough though to have the Black women call them on it.
I saw this more as a typical fantasy Good vs Evil story than an overtly political one so I don’t know what that original commenter was talking about. I’m glad they complained though so I could find this author and story. I’m looking forward to her next book.