Review: The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 4ish
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

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 liked the concept for this book quite a bit more than I ended up enjoying to content, which was too bad because Harrow is an EXCELLENT writer. Her characters, her settings, and her world-building all leap off the page in a way that is (theoretically) completely captivating. But I ended up just not *liking* her characters or her setting all that much.

Primarily I felt a big disconnect with the book because it is written on the principal of angry feminism, which isn’t a version of feminism I’ve ever particularly agreed with. Everyone is so MAD, and it’s written in such a way that implies the patriarchy was explicitly invented with the intention of taking power away from women, and I suspect reality was a lot less malicious and a lot more organic than that. The whole tone was quite volatile, and as a person who rarely gets worked up to anger myself (being much more inclined toward hopelessness or carrying on), I just couldn’t connect with it.

I LOVED Harrow’s concept of witchcraft and magic. It was wholly different than anything I’d ever read before, but still so steeped in folklore and fairy tales. I loved the way Harrow took well-known tales and twisted them to fit her version of witchcraft. I would be eager to read more set in this world, maybe set post-Industrial Revolution once magic makes its way back into everyday life. Maybe set in the present???

The setting confused me a little. I usually really like alternate history, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on this one. Am I supposed to understand that the South won the war? Where *is* New Salem. What year is it? I found the backstory on Salem, and therefore the creation of New Salem both plausible and fascinating, but never ended up working out a great deal of the rest.

So a little bit of a mixed bag for me. Overall I liked it, but I enjoyed The Ten Thousand Doors of January quite a bit more.

6 thoughts on “Review: The Once and Future Witches

  1. I struggled with Ten Thousand Doors because of the extensive footnotes filled with modern sort of hot button issues in a book supposedly set in older times. It often jarred me out of the narrative.You summed up the feeling of some of her themes very well for me…I tried this one and DNF’d it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In “January” the way the book was written, conscious that it was a book with lots of literary side bars, didn’t bother me, but in this book it felt jarring. It made me wonder if that’s just the only way she can write.

      Like

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