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The Once and Future Witches by Alix E.…

The Once and Future Witches (edition 2020)

by Alix E. Harrow (Author)

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2181591,006 (4.35)4
Title:The Once and Future Witches
Authors:Alix E. Harrow (Author)
Info:Redhook (2020), 528 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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The writing was very lyrical and a pleasure to read. The characters were interesting, though I preferred the eldest sister the most. The middle sister was sometimes frustrating to read because she kept making very poor decisions. However, all three characters had clear character growth and their relationship with each other was usually where they were their best as characters. I found the magic, world, and themes particularly fun and creative. The ways in which spells came from stories and rhythms and folk stories and utilized items as well as will made for fun references and limitations. The differences in spells depending on culture, gender, etc was also interesting. The historical elements were also great and there were clear parallels to the real suffrage history.

In terms of weaknesses, the plot did feel drawn out a little. The motivation at the beginning of the story was achieved about 1/3 of the way in so you’re wondering what else is going to go wrong. I felt some of the later half of the book, especially, could have been trimmed, as parts of it got repetitive. The villain was a little too on the-nose/over the top evil for my tastes, but the backstory was fairly interesting and fit the themes of the story well. Having three sisters as POV characters made sense for the story but it made the character growth feel a little too spelled out/rushed in places, even though the book as almost 500 pages.
  femmecp | Nov 21, 2020 |
“There's no such thing as witches. But there used to be.” So begins the captivating tale of three estranged sisters who are drawn to each other (by magic?) during the women's suffrage movement in Chicago. Harrow effectively meshes women's rights in the late 1800s with the fairy tales and fables of witch women who used magic spells to wield power. Magic has been gone for years, but could it be revived by strong-willed women, desperate to improve their lives? As in her first book, The Thousand Doors of January, Harrow's worldbuilding is lush, inclusive, and utterly enchanting. It's a little bit scary at times, too! A perfect book for fall during an election year. ( )
  bookappeal | Oct 31, 2020 |
This novel was simply excellent, seemingly hitting no wrong notes. Loved the plot, loved the characters, loved the setting, loved the atmosphere, loved the feminism, and loved the LGBTQ elements. It did seem a bit long, but I'm not sure what I would cut. Just a very satisfying read! ( )
  RandyRasa | Oct 25, 2020 |
"There's no such thing as witches, but there used to be."

The three Eastwood sisters - Beatrice Belladonna, Agnes Amaranth, and James Juniper - are sent away or flee their father's home in Crow County. All three, separately, end up in New Salem in 1893, and together, somewhat accidentally, they call the Lost Way of Avalon, a tower inhabited by the Last Three (the Crone, the Mother, the Maiden) to appear in the center of St. George's square during a suffragists' event. A witch hunt ensues, led by the dangerous Gideon Hill, a candidate for mayor who brings a black dog with him everywhere and whose shadow doesn't behave in the usual way. Hounded, Wise Beatrice/Bella, beautiful, strong, pregnant Agnes, and wild, wayward Juniper find their way to each other, uncover past misunderstandings and hurts, and begin to gather and share knowledge with other women in New Salem, including African-American reporter Cleopatra Quinn, who turns out to be one of the Daughters of Tituba. Gideon is a formidable, insidious enemy, and every character suffers and sacrifices immensely, even ultimately; but there is hope in the end, and witchcraft - the will, the words, and the way - woven throughout.

"There's still no such thing as witches.
But there will be."

See also: The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow


Mama Mags said...proper witching...only ever takes three things: the will to listen to it, the worlds to speak with it, and the way to let it into the world. The will, the words, and the way. (viii)

Beatrice remembers listening to her grandmother's stories as if they were doors to someplace else, someplace better. (19)

Juniper never thought much about her sisters' lives after they left Crow County - they'd just walked off the edge of the page and vanished, a pair of unfinished sentences... (29)

"Seems to me they're the same thing, more or less...Witching and women's rights. Suffrage and spells. They're both a kind of power, aren't they? The kind we're not allowed to have....They're better than the story we were given." (Juniper, 47)

"We may be either beloved or burned, but never trusted with any degree of power." (Miss Stone, 55)

She's been all of those things herself; she knows the black alchemy that transmutes hurt into hate. (Agnes, 110)

"Not every word and way belongs to you." (Gertrude to Juniper, 174)

[Beatrice] wonders if trust, once lost, can ever truly be found again...She decides she doesn't care, that maybe trust is neither lost nor found, broken nor mended, but merely given. Decided, despite the risk. (199)

"Must a thing be bound and shelved in order to matter? Some stories were never written down. Some stories were passed by whisper and song, mother to daughter to sister." (Cleo Quinn to Bella, 219)

"I may not be a witch, Miss Eastwood, but I'm quite a tolerable librarian." (Henry Blackwell to Beatrice, 221)

"Behind every witch is a woman wronged." (Mr. Blackwell to Beatrice, 222)

"What my mother taught me is this: you hide the most important things in the places that matter least....Places a man would never look." (Cleo Quinn to Beatrice, 241)

...he can feel the rules of the real shifting beneath his feet... (245)

"What if they didn't start as witch-burnings? What if they were book-burnings, in the beginning?" (Bella to Juniper, 277)

"Sometimes you can't fight. Sometimes you can only survive." (Agnes to August Lee, 291)

...full of unwieldy, fresh-hatched love. (Juniper for Eve, 333)

"If you want to blame someone for a fire, look for the men holding matches." (Quinn to Beatrice, 334)

Of the terrible risk of loving someone more than yourself and the secret strength it grants you. (Agnes, 346)

...her growing suspicion that witchcraft isn't one thing but many things, all the ways and words women have found to wreak their wills on the world. (Bella to Blackwell, 353)

...she thinks of the ways people make for themselves when there are none, the impossible things they render possible. (Bella, 394)

"That's all magic is, really: the space between what you have and what you need." (The Crone to Bella, 404)

Bella's fingertips fizz with the need to write it all down, to decant the marvels and curiosities of the last hour into the safety of ink and paper. (416)

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. (Bella, 507) ( )
  JennyArch | Oct 23, 2020 |
In 1893, in an alternate world slightly but crucially different from our own, witchcraft has been crushed out of existence by brutal purges and burnings, A few, small charms continue to exist, passed down from mother to daughter. Women who want any real power are seeking, in the US, to get the vote. Three sisters, though, raised on a hardscrabble farm by their abusive father, have their own viewpoint.

Beatrix Belladona, Agnes Amaranth, and James Juniper Eastwood (yes, the girls' father decided to name the youngest daughter James, after himself) grew up a closely united trio, protecting each other against their father, and learning the basics of witchcraft from their grandmother, Mags. Then something happeened, and Bella and Agnes have left not just the farm but the whole area, leaving Juniper behind. Juniper feels abandoned and betrayed, especially as years drag on and they never return for her, nor does she receive any word from them.

Then the day comes when Juniper, burning with long-stoked rage, and attacked by her father yet again, kills him.

It's been seven years since her sisters left, and Juniper has grown hard and bitter, and is now a fugitive from the law. She heads to New Salem, determined to find a way to bring back, not little bits of magic, but the Way of Avalon, true, full witchcraft. Or if that's not possible, as seems all too likely, as much of it as is possible after the several centuries since the burning of the Tower of Avalon and the Last Three, the last three full witches, by St. George. In this timeline, he purged witches, not dragons.

In New Salem, though Juniper has no way to know it when she arrives, Bella is working as a librarian, and Agnes is working in a factory. They're not in contact with each other; one several things Juniper doesn't know is that their father managed to divide them and send them off to very different fates. Juniper's arrival helps to trigger something that brings the three sisters together again, but they don't immediately find out how completely false their ideas of what happened when they were divided and separated, seven years ago.

And that's just the immediate background. This is a hefty, complex, twisty tale, about the year starting with the spring equinox, 1893, while witchcraft, gender relations, and the women's suffrage movement take rather different directions than they did in our world. Interlayered is the gradual revelation of the history of witchcraft. The sisters are in New Salem; old Salem was the site of the last big outbreak of witchcraft, and exists now only as a museum of the defeat of the witches. There were other outbreaks, earlier, between the burning of the Tower and the Last Three, that we learn of later. They all end with witches burning.

In New Salem, Bella is working as a librarian, and quietly doing research into surviving charms, spells, and bits of magic, as she compiles a combination new grimoire and history of magic. She's quiet, studious, and cautious. Agnes worked in an orphanage before going to the factory. What she has taken from her experiences at home and split with her sisters is that survival means keeping the circle of what you'll protect small enough that it only encompasses yourself. Juniper is burning with anger and a desire for revenge, but also for a righting of the social order. When she arrives, it's not long before she has joined the women's suffrage organization led by Miss Stone. They are oposed by the Ladies' Christian Union, headed by Grace Wigan, and a city councilor, Gideon Hill, who is her adopted father.

None of the sisters wants to risk getting too close to anyone; it's not safe. But Agnes hasn't sworn off sex, and is now pregnant. Bella meets Cleopatra Quinn, a black woman who is publisher of a newspaper, the New Salem Defender. Cleopatra Quinn is well aware that the white women's suffragists won't welcome black women, and she has other secrets as well, that might be of more interest to Bella. Juniper reluctantly makes some friends, not just political allies, among the suffragists.

And the sisters gradually, even without openning up enough to figure out what really happened seven years ago, not yet, start rebuilding their relationship. This grows into the start of a group they call the Sisters of Avalon--an attempt to bring back the Way of Avalon, and the Tower.

We see the world of the factory girls, the suffragist women, immigrant women, black women with slavery in the not very distant past, and some glimpses of working class men. The reemergence of witchcraft, the assertion of women's power in various ways, and the opposition and pushback, enlivened by the fact that another power, that ought to be long dead, is alive and active in New Salem.

I love these characters, their story, and their world. It's wonderfully done. I do have, not exactly a complaint, but an observation. At sixteen hours, this is a long book, and there's something odd about it, at least to me. It seems to me to have the structure of a trilogy that for whatever reason wasn't split into its three parts, but was published as one volume. It didn't feel too long; it felt like there were three completely appropriate, properly spaced endings to the component volumes.

It might just be that I'm a bit weird, and you won't agree at all. Regardless, this is a wonderful story, and I strongly recommend it.

I bought this audiobook. ( )
  LisCarey | Oct 22, 2020 |
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A witch origin story set in 1893, The Once and Future Witches follows the Eastwood sisters, together after unwanted separation, as they join the suffragists of New Salem. The suffrage movement soon starts to parallel a bubbling witch's movement that only the sisters can lead, if they can bind the wounds between themselves. Harrow follows up her Hugo Award win with a highly enjoyable and inherently feminist sophomore novel.

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. [From Barnes and Noble Website]
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