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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

I was especially taken with the sisters' complicated relationships and with the link Harrow draws between witching and the women's suffrage movement.

She begins to believe that the words and ways are whichever ones a woman has, and that a witch is merely a woman who needs more than she has.

In The Once and Future Witches, Harrow writes about three sisters raised by a powerful mother who refused to leave the man who slowly destroyed her. The bitter and broken sisters learned certain powerful ways and words at the knee of their witchy grandmother Mags, then were separated by tragedy. These days there's no more witching, no more will for spells and change in the world. Or so most people believe.

Each of the three main protagonists here is a young woman in the midst of her own high-stakes crisis, and none of them expects to ever find the others again. But when the long-lost sisters do unexpectedly cross each other's paths at last, the world's seams split, offering a glimpse into another land, a buffeting wind, and a burst of terrible power, indicating the weight they might have if they could find a way to channel their collective knowledge and potential.

The women must decide whether to ignore what's occurred and move on, or to try and harness and master the spells they've been taught--and those they've picked up from women and stories and whispers along the way. The sisters are meanwhile trying to find a way back together after grave betrayals and years of broken trust, and they're each navigating various personal difficulties of their own: an out-of-wedlock pregnancy; involvement in the much-maligned and persecuted women's suffrage movement; and a romantic attraction that would be frowned on if made known to society--and even punishable by law.

Harrow provides a villain you'll love to hate: he oppresses women, smugly and sneakily instills fear, and stokes the fires of disturbance, all while holding a personal vendetta against the Eastwood sisters themselves; as one sister says: She is almost surprised by how much she hates him, and how familiar the hate feels in her chest: the bitter, futile hatred of the weak for the powerful, the small for the strong.

I adored how Harrow intermingled the women's suffrage movement with the reemergence of witching and women's efforts to reclaim power in manners large and small:"...Suffrage and spells.... They're both a kind of power, aren't they? The kind we aren't allowed to have...."

Your blood may boil when you read the incessant underestimating of women and condescending tone of the bad guys here: "And frankly," Mr. Hill had told the papers, "if this is what happens when women gain some measure of power, we have grave doubts about the advisability of granting them more."

I was especially taken with the sisters' complicated relationships with each other in The Once and Future Witches. While at a few points I felt like the dramatic situations or dialogue distracted me from what felt like the heart of the story (the Eastwoods' helping women with their everyday struggles for more control over their lives), I was willing to suspend my disbelief in order to dive into the witchy wonder here.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

The author's first book, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, felt unexpected, sometimes dark, ultimately hopeful, and just wonderful.

I mentioned The Once and Future Witches (along with A Burning and Hamnet) in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 2/2/21 Edition.


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