Book Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches Alix E. Harrow book review
The Once and Future Witches Book Review

Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Release Date: October 13, 2020
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 528
Buy: Indigo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Rating: Own It
Disclaimer: Mild spoilers.

summary book review

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. (Goodreads)

Thoughts book review

“Because it’s easy to ignore a woman.” Juniper’s lips twist in a feral smile. “But a hell of a lot harder to ignore a witch.”

Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches

Words. What are words? Because I have none to describe how beautiful and amazing The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow was.

I have been looking for the kind of book that grips me by its pages and doesn’t spit me out until the last page for months, and this my book loving friends, was exactly what I was looking for. To say this book cast a spell on me (pun 1000% intended) is an understatement.

From the witchcraft to the characters to the setting to the plot and writing, everything about this book was breathtaking. Harrow has the poetic ease to her writing that is so captivating and immersive and once I fell in love with this book in the first few chapters I was hooked until the end.

“I think they stole the words and ways from us, and left us nothing but our wills.”

Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches

First, let’s start with the witchcraft because that’s what brought me to this book and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

I will always complain that there are not enough books about witches on bookshelves. I will also complain that there is never enough magic in the books that do exist. This book was overflowing with witchcraft and it was a witchcraft that was rooted in actual practice (spells, herbs, wands, and even a couple broomsticks) and felt so real it could exist in the world we live in. Magic is something that has been burned out of women and to be a witch in public is to sign your own arrest warrant. So, to preserve magic women have weaved their spells into the everyday items of their lives like embroidery, childhood rhymes, and fairy tales. I LOVED the use of fairy tales in this book.

Old sayings from fairy tales would be integrated into spell work which really highlighted the idea that magic was something hidden and passed down through the generations. Magic wasn’t something otherworldly and supernatural in this book, but something rooted in the stories we tell. Harrow rewrote many popular fairy tales (Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty) with a witchy twist that supported the world she had created and the fairy tale lover in me absolutely lived for it.  

The collection of characters is extremely diverse as well. From the Eastwood sisters themselves, to the Sisters that they join with, to the villain, each character was unique and had their own story to tell, big or small. I also liked the way Harrow treated the romance in this story. It wasn’t central to the story and only really appeared in the last third of this book. So many novels interweave the romance as something imperative to the storyline that I’ve started to just expect some big romance. It’s refreshing when it isn’t the focus. Some of the romances in the novel are also interracial and LGBTQ which was just another point to how inclusive and diverse this book was.

I’ll be honest, I was worried before I started reading. Harrow’s debut book, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, has been on my TBR since its release and I figured I should read it before picking up this one. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed in it (please don’t be mad at me, I know that’s an unpopular opinion). That’s a review for another time, but the one thing I did love was Harrow’s writing. So, while not captivated by the story, I was captivated by the words and that gave me hope for The Once and Future Witches.

Harrow’s writing is impossible to not get lost in it. It has this lyrical quality that makes every sentence flow effortlessly into the next. Her descriptions are so detailed and full of imagery you feel like you’re living in the world she’s made. She also tackles different topics like gender, equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ, race, motherhood, abuse, and so much more with such believable ease. Each topic is woven into the story with purpose that nothing feels out of place in the Victorian setting despite also being contemporary concerns. 

“We may be either beloved or burned, but never trusted with any degree of power.”

Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches

Specifically, this book tackles the idea of women and power and how power is denied from these women. The sisters and many of the other characters are suffragists and to put it simply, they’re pissed. They’re angry about being burned, about having to hide, about not being able to vote, about being denied their right to live and breath. The anger in this book is palpable. Not just from these late 1800s women, but for 21st century women. For people just seeking power in who they are. Witchcraft is power and in this book we can all be witches. It was beautiful really, the way Harrow explores what womanhood is and the struggle and fight to retain power and autonomy. The three Eastwood sisters are made to symbolize the neopagan image of the Triple Goddess (the maiden, the mother, and the crone). Through the three sisters Harrow explores the different stages of womanhood, but also explains that no woman has to be just one of those things. As quoted in the book, “Every woman is usually at least one of those. Sometimes all three and a few others besides”. Womanhood is whatever one wants it to be and the true power is in owning who you are as a woman. Ultimately, anyone can be a witch if they have the will, are given the words, and are shown the ways.

This book is my favourite read so far of 2020 and will always hold a special place in my reading heart. It was more beautiful than I could have imagined (finally a book that lived up to its gorgeous cover) and if you haven’t read this book, drop whatever you are reading and read it now. 

Have you read The Once and Future Witches? Are you planning to? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

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