The Rules of Magic / Alice Hoffman
New York: Simon & Schuster, c2017.
Just in time for Halloween, I finally weigh in with my first book review of the month, a delightfully witchy book by Alice Hoffman.
The Rules of Magic is a prequel to her 1995 smash hit, Practical Magic (also made into a dreadful movie which I cannot recommend!)
In this prequel, Franny, Bridget (Jet), and Vincent are the three children of Susanna Owens, a woman who has distanced herself from her family and its bloodline of magical women. She’s now living in New York with her psychologist husband. She is trying to keep all her children safe by denying their family heritage, but, of course, as they children grow up, they begin to discover their powers all on their own.
Franny, the eldest, can call birds to her and loves the feeling of flight. Jet, the quiet middle sister, finally admits that she can hear other people’s thoughts. And Vincent, the wild youngest, is oozing with charm, drawing people to him even as he is drawn to the darker side of magic.
When Franny is 17, they are all sent to spend a summer with their Aunt Isabelle Owens, who teaches them to manage their abilities. There is a lot of back story to the Owens family here, and it’s tied to Salem and the original Owens witch, Maria. Getting herself involved with one of the worst witch hunters and puritanical judges of the Salem years, Maria was deserted by him and placed a curse on her family that daring to fall in love would be punished.Her family curse, condemning true love, has affected everyone since.
Hoffman's fixation of romantic love as the point of everything feels a little tired after so many books, even with the lush writing she couches it all in. And once again in this book, she has characters die tragically and gratuitously, to serve the needs of her main characters. This was one of the characteristics of her writing which led me to give her up completely after finishing Story Sisters (the Hoffman book I dislike the very most). This book also feels a bit rushed, so as to get to the point where it connects to Practical Magic.
Spending many pages on their teenage years, the narrative then rapidly covers the adult lives of the siblings in brief, until the sisters finally meet their two tiny grandnieces, who become the main characters of Practical Magic. Don’t be alarmed, however, you absolutely don’t need to have read that first in order to appreciate this book. The lives of the three Owens siblings are complex enough to read on their own.
Having read Practical Magic when it first came out 20 years ago, I must admit my memories of it are faint, but I do recall really loving the book and Hoffman's writing. My fondness for Hoffman has certainly dropped off in the past few years, but I thought I'd try this book for its connections to that earlier read. I was a little confused about the timeline here; they are growing up in the 60s so what year is it when they meet the young girls who are the featured characters in Practical Magic? I'll have to go back to it to figure that out.
It was, overall, still a solid read even with the flaws. The Owens family is interesting, and the story suits Hoffman's writing style and themes. It was a seasonal read that I did like, though my love for Hoffman isn't where it was 20 years ago!
Have you read this? Do you love or loathe Alice Hoffman's writing? Are there some of her books you like and others you don't? Enquiring minds want to know.