REVIEW | The Once and Future Witches | Alix. E. Harrow

That temper will get you burnt at the damn stake, Mama Mags used to tell her. A wise woman keeps her burning on the inside.

I had hugely high expectations for this book and it smashed every one of them. I ended up highlighting over 30 passages in my first read through, and it’s going to be even worse when I get a physical copy and can tab that one. I’m obsessed with everything about this book, and I now desperately need a copy of The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

Rating: 5 stars!

Thanks to Orbit Books for the review copy of this book, it has not affected my honest review.

Trigger Warnings, taken from author’s list on GR: Child abuse, both physical and psychological; parental death; arrest and imprisonment; mind control; pregnancy and childbirth, including forced hospitalization; abortion; racism; sexism; homophobia, both external and internalized; threat of sexual assault, averted; torture (mostly off-the-page, but alluded to); execution (attempted); child abandonment; major character death.

About the book:

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.

What did I think?

I say this a lot but I truly think this book might have been made for me. Historical fantasy fronted by witches using actual practice and not mystical wand waving, leading a feminist suffragette charge with nothing but their wits and willpower. It was just perfection. I hadn’t read anything from Alix E. Harrow before, though I have had The Ten Thousand Doors of January on my radar for a while, and her writing blew me away so intensely that within five minutes of finishing The Once and Future Witches I was on my phone trying to get ahold of a copy of The Ten Thousand Doors of January. Harrow’s writing is lyrical and beautiful, and feels so carefully crafted that every line is a masterpiece. I couldn’t pick a single favourite line from this book. I couldn’t even narrow it down to five. Settings were made vivid and memorable; I usually don’t remember anything about the settings of books because I have aphantasia, but when making my graphic for this post I was completely fixated on the thought of Juniper’s cane against stone streets. It was truly that memorably vivid even in little passing snippets. The descriptions of the witching was perfect. To be honest, I can be quite fussy on what feels like realistic witchcraft and what doesn’t, and this nailed it in so many ways for me. And the way that the words were woven into witchcraft were truly perfect. I loved the storytelling aspect as it was cut into the Eastwood sisters’ tale.

As for the Eastwoods, I adored all three of them. I was buddy reading this with Andee (mousereads) and I swear every third word out of my mouth was ‘Juniper’ for the entire four days that we were reading. While Juniper has my heart and soul (not surprising, considering I’m a maiden archetype witch anyway), I truly loved all three of the Eastwoods. Bella was the slowest for me to adore, but her relationship with the wonderful Cleo definitely drew her personality out and made her the type of character I just wanted to whisk away for a happily ever after. And honestly, I think that certain reveals about her history make her caginess in the early chapters make perfect sense. Agnes is jaded and cautious and very reluctant to share her love again. Despite that, it was still clear just how fiercely she was capable of loving, and I adored her unwillingness to yield when it came to the people she cares for. Not to mention that August Lee? The only man in this book with rights. And then Juniper. James Juniper Eastwood. I actually adore her. Dangerous and strong-willed and sharp tongued, Juniper is the fire that drives them at first and I loved her role in their family. I also loved that she was equal parts villain and hero, and never backed down from a fight. I could honestly read a thousand pages of Juniper just going around her daily life. Any book that can have three main characters and make me adore all of them without hesitation deserves all the praise. And the bond of sisterhood between them and the other women in this book brought literal tears to my eyes. Even the side characters were well written, well rounded and very well loveable.

The plot of The Once and Future Witches genuinely stressed me out so much. At one point there was so much happening that I thought I must be nearing the climax, only to find out I was literally halfway through. It was well paced, a balance between fast action scenes and the longer, slower process that building a coven and spreading dissent and magic would be. I was never bored and always desperate to keep turning pages, eager to uncover both the magical aspects of the book and to find out more about the womens’ fight for equality and the vote. The way the story built into an emotional crescendo was incredible and I think my anxiety and excitement will be just as palpable on the reread. It built to an ending that packed such a punch that it left me crying at work and Andee crying in a Starbucks. And if that’s not enough of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

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Release date: 13th October 2020

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