The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

(10.0/10) Pure adventure, brilliantly told, with powerful messages cloaked in the charm and wisdom you’d come to expect from an Alix Harrow story.

Book of the Year 2020 (see all)

“That’s all magic is, really: the space between what you have and what you need.”

We are all witches.

In The Once and Future Witches, Harrow argues that we have the means to tap into a reservoir of power to achieve wonderous and needful things. All that witchery requires are the words of execution, the ways of planning, and an unshakable will to bridge the gap between what you have and taking what you deserve.

Witchery has two histories. There are the centuries-old witch stories that have become canon, the ones printed in books and newspapers, staining these women as workers of devilry. Then there are the hidden stories of what really happened: brave women standing up in the face of oppression, taking back the power that the patriarchy, and society at large, has always used against them. These stories have survived through fairy tales, in children’s rhymes, in stitched artwork, and word-of-mouth tales passed throughout the generations; their spells are carefully guarded in secrecy, with words and ways as different as the cultures that shepherd them.

But all of that is about to change, if the Eastwood sisters have anything to say about it.

James Juniper is the youngest, and the most dedicated to her craft. A life full of torment and betrayal has lit a bonfire of pain and rage inside her, and she just needs a direction in which to aim it. Agnes Amaranth keeps her circle of trust to a population of one. But circumstances are about to bring a newcomer into Agnes’ life, forcing her to redefine her relationships with those that seek her, and those she has shunned. Beatrice Belladonna is the eldest of the sisters, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of her witch ancestors. A new companion enters her life and helps to unlock emotions long repressed, as well as a path to a power that could help change witchery for women everywhere.

The sisters become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, which first serves as a proxy for their own growing power throughout the city of New Salem. They face obstacles from the usual sources: sexism, racism, classism, ignorance, fear, hatred, and countless other forms of persecution and violence that women have suffered since time began. But there are other threats lurking beyond the veil, things that will bring the city of New Haven to its knees…

This book is pure adventure, brilliantly told, with powerful messages cloaked in the charm and wisdom you’d come to expect from an Alix Harrow story. Like her previous novel, it is a love letter to stories themselves, and it is a profound love of which I am grateful to have shared.

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