The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
Published October 13th 2020 by Orbit
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Witches
Rep: Lesbian MC with Black, lesbian LI; trans SC
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.
Thank you NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.
trigger warnings: Child abuse, both physical and psychological; parental death; arrest and imprisonment; mind control; pregnancy and childbirth, including forced hospitalization; racism; sexism; homophobia, both external and internalized; threat of sexual assault, averted; torture (mostly off-the-page, but alluded to); execution (attempted); child abandonment; major character death.
Alix E. Harrow is an amazing storyteller. When I first heard of this 2020 release, I knew I had to get my hands on it as soon as possible. I fell in love with Alix E. Harrow’s writing when I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January. There’s something about her lyrical prose that complements books with magic. Expressive, touching, bewitching writing.
The year 1893 in The Once and Future Witches was filled with women hiding their witchery deep down within themselves, women fighting for the rights of their kind, and women who were defying the norm. Throughout the entire novel, the inclusivity of the movement by having women of all backgrounds, especially those often marginalised, was amazing. There were poor women, black women, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and sex workers. The fight for inclusion, acceptance and rights encompassed all these women’s efforts. By following them, we explore the topic of sisterhood, witness the camaraderie between the women activists and the rise of resistance against the patriarchy.
Thrilling, magical story about three sisters. Alix E. Harrow did a fantastic job in distinguishing the three Eastwood sisters. They had unique individual stories, personalities, past and present. At the same time, their voices worked in harmony and cohesively. While they were busy with the women’s movement, the sisters were trying to heal the heartbreak, guilt, anger and misunderstanding amongst them. For seven years, they had been apart. The Once and Future Witches is a character-driven story.
Juniper’s quick to temper, always ready to do something. Being abandoned by two older sisters took a toll in her willingness to trust anyone. She lets her anger and hurt drive her actions. Agnes’s jaded. Weary of what might come, she distanced herself from all the things witch-related. With time, she’s reminded of her youngest sister’s freeness and her eldest sister’s quiet bravery. As the wise one, Bella is oftentimes huddled up with a book, absorbing all the knowledge it offers. She might not always have the will or the way, she has the words.
She said proper witching is just a conversation with that red heartbeat, which only ever takes three things: the will to listen to it, the words to speak to it, and the way to let it into the world.
Since it’s more character-driven, I wasn’t able to immediately immerse myself with the plot. Certain parts of the book were slow but it doesn’t mean that nothing was happening. As the plot started to gain traction and stakes ramped up, I did find myself smoothly flowing through the rest of the book with ease.
Alix E. Harrow took some fairy tales that we know and gave it a witchy twist. These children’s tales were there to perpetuate a larger narrative and add substance to the overarching plot which I thought was really cool. She did the same to familiar nursery rhymes and modified it to become spells. I loved how much myths and fables played a role in enhancing The Once and Future Witches.
Overall, a wondrous witchy tale of three sisters and women suffragists. I’m once again reminded of how much I loved Alix E. Harrow’s writing. I can’t wait for you to read this amazing standalone. Do take note of the trigger warnings before proceeding!
author’s note: This book is darker than my previous work, and I want to make sure readers are forewarned. I tried hard to find the line between accurately representing the historical experiences of women (and especially women activists), and dramatizing their pain and suffering in an exploitative way, but I wouldn’t want anyone to stumble into a reading experience they didn’t want.