The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

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The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Olivia Tierney
Reviewed by Olivia Tierney
Summary: Atmospheric and beautiful, The Once and Future Witches is a bewitching story of three sisters fighting to be powerful in a world where their voices are ignored. Set against the backdrop of the fight for women's suffrage, the sisters' endeavour to bring magic back is captivating and exceptional. Empowering and triumphant, Harrow's second book is a work of art. This is the book you have been searching for - don't miss it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: October 2020
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356512471

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There's no such thing as witches, but there used to be.

In 1893, after the purges and the burnings, witching has been reduced to little more than weak charms and simple spells. If women want to hold power in their hands, to have their voices heard, it is now through women's suffrage.

The Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth and Beatrice Belladonna – have been separated for seven years and for seven years they have lived different lives, untouched by the past. But when the three are drawn back together, to St George's square of New Salem where a window to another world opens in the sky, their stories are once more intertwined.

As the three sisters join the women's fight to cast their votes in ballot boxes and demand to be listened to, they pursue the forgotten words and ways of magic with the hope to transform the women's movement into one of witches and spells. But stalked by shadows of dark witching and hunted by a dangerous enemy who will do anything to ensure that witching never returns, the sisters will need to delve deep into the oldest magics, gather help from numerous, new alliances and mend the wounds of the past if they want to survive and keep their witching dream alive.

The Once and Future Witches is in one word, enchanting. Alix E Harrow has an achingly beautiful way with words and while I really enjoyed her debut, the Hugo Award-nominated The Ten Thousand of January, her second book is on another level. The storytelling is irresistible and dreamlike, the worldbuilding detailed and extensive, the characters brave and dangerous and strong enough to move mountains. It is an enticing blend of fantasy and historical fiction, with magic and reality neatly walking hand in hand through the story.

What makes the novel stand out though are its central themes. There is a great theme of anger in this book, anger at the predestined role of women in society, anger at the loss of magic and anger at thwarted justice. But there is also a great theme of the love between sisters and friends and daughters and mothers, as well as the sweet new beginning romance. Throughout the novel the chapters are painted with shades of darkness, shades of pain and hurt and powerless, which effortlessly transport you into Harrow's fictional story. However, what keeps you reading from page to page is the hope carried through the words and the wills and ways of witching, and the fire within the hearts of the three titular sisters. The twists in the plot are both surprising and subtle and steer the story to a satisfying and conclusive end.

Each of the sisters Agnes, Bella and James Juniper brings a different dynamic to the story, with heart and wisdom and wildness. And the other characters, from the members of the women's suffrage movement Miss Stone and Miss Jennie Lind to the love interests Cleopatra Quinn and August Lee to the ghosts from past memories add great layers of diversity to the story. I loved the depth each of them brought to the story and their characters arcs.

I also loved the reimagined fairytales embedded in the story and how they are woven into the overall plot. Between these witch tales, the magic of the three sisters and the historical setting, it feels as if the reader is traversed through multiple worlds tightly threaded together.

Many thanks to the publisher for providing the BookBag with a copy to review!

Dark and spellbinding, with vivid, unforgettable characters and writing that will take your breath away, The Once and Future Witches is a wonderful adventure that you won't want to end. It is a rare book worth its weight in magic and moonbeams and stardust. Without a doubt, one of the best books of the year.

In terms of further reading, if you loved The Once and Future Witches, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is another atmospheric and intricately detailed story, with central themes of magic and family set against the backdrop of medieval Russia. You might also enjoy Witches Incorporated (Rogue Agent) by K E Mills.

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