Friday 17 July 2020

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

Alix E. Harrow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Having read The Ten Thousand Doors of January earlier in the year, I was beyond excited to read her latest offering The Once and Future Witches.


I won't lie, the size of the book immediately intimidated me. My initial thoughts were that it was going to take me a while to read this one. But I needn't of worried because the story had me hooked and I finished the novel in under two days.

The blurb might give you a hint as to why I found this tale so fascinating:

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 will admit, I was first drawn to this book because of the beauty of its cover and I can say that I was so right to judge this book by its cover. The story held within its binding is just as stunning.

This isn't just a story about witches.

It is a telling of three sisters, of family and how mystery and magic can bring people together who once were apart. It is a depiction of feminism and of independence. Quite frankly it is a brilliant showing of some badass women!

The three Eastwood sisters known to most as Bella, Agnes and June live in a world where once there was both magic and power for females and now as the future looms over them they will fight for these things to become the reality once again.

Taking place in New Salem in the year of 1983, the youngest of this trio, June (James Juniper) arrives in town shadowed by both her cloak and the mysteries of her sudden appearance. Immediately you get the sense that this is a woman on a mission, a strong protagonist that has the determination to get what she wants, what that is becomes clearer as we get taken further into her journey.

As the pages are turned we learn more about the sisters and why their relationships with one another became so broken. Growing up, they were left with their no-good father. What he did was abuse them, hurt them, and generally did his damnedest to tear them apart from one another. And unfortunately over time, he was successful in his mission. Bella was sent to a ladies’ school, Agnes left fearing for her safety, which in the end left June alone with a need to fight back, resulting in the only option she had left, murder. 

However the time has come to unite, to come together and work together for what is fair and what is right ...

The wayward sisters, hand in hand, 

Burned and bound, our stolen crown

But what is lost, that can’t be found?

Broken down in to five parts, Alix has written a something which reads more like poetry, like a beautiful combination of magic and history, coming together explosively to offer a story that actually calls to our generation now.

I love that the characters in this novel aren't necessarily likeable. 

These witches are angry, very angry and they have something to prove. They want their voices heard and their presence known.




Cleverly weaved within the book are (dark) fairytales that the girls have been told. Each sister seems to be a representation of someone/something else that depict characters from these myths. Bella - the chrone, Agnes - the mother and June - the maiden. Their own personalities lending strength to what they can all become when together.

"You can tell the wickedness of a witch by the wickedness of her ways."

Barriers are broken down, racism, sexism, even class. 

The Once and Future Witches really is a story to be taken into the future. Taking stock of the world we live in and paving the way for a place less ignorant, less fearful and less hateful.

A deliciously dangerous and dark read, filled to the brim with passion, power and promise.

There are lessons to be learned from this novel, this is a piece of literature that will appeal to so many. Although from first glance it seems that this is more historical than futuristic, this is definitely a story for our time. 

And oh my god do I wish I could be a witch right now!

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