Monday, January 18, 2021

The Once and Future Witches

NY: Redhook, c2020
516 p.

I really loved Harrow's first book (The Ten Thousand Doors of January) so snapped this one up when it came out. An author I liked, witchy suffragettes and three sisters as main characters-- so many of my favourite things! 

I liked this book. Didn't quite love it as much as the first one, but still really enjoyed the creation of this alternate past when women had magical gifts that were suppressed and needed to be restored to the world -- enter the Eastwood sisters, Belladonna, Amaranth & Juniper. These three are quite different from one another, and they are slightly estranged due to their traumatic upbringing. 

But as Juniper finds her older sisters, and begins to fight for both votes and magic, they must come together to save women's magic in the world. I really liked the prickly relationships between these sisters, and the way their individual preoccupations built a complete story. They are each quite different -- bookish, maternal, or completely wild. But they each have magic in their blood, and discover its importance while also discovering that their kind of magic isn't the only kind there is. 

The story includes a nod to other communities outside of the sisters' world. Belladonna begins a relationship with Cleo, a black journalist with a different magical tradition. The women in her family and community are clearly acknowledged, and come to save the day a time or two. There are also a couple of sympathetic male characters, although there are a heck of a lot more awful ones. It really expanded the story to have other communities acknowledged, even though the Eastwood quest was clearly the central theme and focus. 

The story started out really strongly, lots of energy and power -- the middle was a bit more of the explanatory background and strategizing part, so a bit slower -- and then the ending features the big showdown between the Eastwoods and the vile politician trying to eradicate women's magic forever. Unfortunately, the ending really annoyed me, and diminished my appreciation for the story. It didn't seem to match the sentiments of the rest of the book, with women standing up and claiming their witchy heritage -- it fell to the clich√© of a witch's end.  

But the characters were wonderful, and the combination of women's rights, folklore, and fairy tale characters and elements was beautifully done. Looking forward to Harrow's next book! 

2 comments:

  1. The ending also annoyed me, although I thought it was trying to move past the cliche of the witches' end to some kind of spiritual plane on which they had a great triumph and would live forever.

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    1. I think you're right, but I just didn't buy it. After the mentions leading up to the finale, I can't believe she went there! Argh.

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