Saturday, March 13, 2021


Rating: 3/5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but I likely wouldn’t have bought it or read it if I didn’t read and love Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January and then subsequently decide to read everything she writes.

I attended an event with Alix Harrow and Erin Morgenstern in January 2020 and I remember that Alix was talking about her new book that she was working on, which was this book. She was like, “It’s about suffragettes, but they’re witches!” And she was so excited about it! I’m glad that she was so enthusiastic about her novel, because that’s how authors should feel about their own works, but I have to admit that when I heard that, I was not very excited myself. I’ve never been very interested in reading about real-world problems such as political or social issues, and sadly adding them into a book with historical influence and a fantasy plot does not increase my interest at all. So if Alix Harrow hadn’t written this novel, I likely wouldn’t have picked it up because it just doesn’t sound like my kind of book.

The Once and Future Witches is historical fantasy, but it has a heavy focus on the historical aspects. The main issue I had with Ten Thousand Doors is that I expected a lighthearted portal fantasy novel when in actuality the book had a more solemn tone, focused on discussing social issues plaguing our society today but in a historical setting with a touch of magic, and that is the same situation with The Once and Future Witches. This novel is largely historical fiction with only a slight fantastical element in the form of witches who can cast spells, which are only partially fantastical anyway since back in the 1800s, when this book is set, some people believed them to be real and acted as if they were. So just be aware going into this story that the heavy historical influence overshadows the fantastical bits.

The Once and Future Witches was released at the perfect time (although I didn’t read it until a few months after release, thus defeating the point). This book is all about women’s rights and the suffrage movement, and it was released a month before the 2020 election. I like to think this was a deliberate decision of the publishers to encourage their readers to go and vote. The book takes the concept of voting as a woman’s right and compares it to witchcraft as a woman’s right—both are denied to women, yet both are activities that women should be allowed to do. The book constantly makes the claim that behind every witch is a woman that was wronged, and all women were wronged by not being allowed to vote.

The story follows the three Eastwood sisters—James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna—who each represent the maiden, the mother, and the crone. They come together after many years apart and form a society of women’s rights, but it basically becomes a coven of witches. They are all about what women should do and can do and have the right to do. Now mind you this is taking place in 1893 when the patriarchy ruled and believed women didn’t have many rights, and suspicion of witchery was punishable by imprisonment or death, specifically death by fire.

I unfortunately got the three sisters mixed up at times, but I feel like that is my own fault and inattention to detail and the fact that I listened to the audiobook rather than reading the physical book. I don’t think this would have happened had I read the book with my eyes.

I love the scene when Juniper joins the women’s association and the facilitator asks her which women’s group she’s interested in joining and June is like, “Witchcraft,” and they all just stare at her as if that’s an invalid option. I’ve always loved stories about witches, and it’s interesting that witches are such a broad topic that each book I’ve read takes a different spin on the idea.

I love that each chapter begins with the words for a specific spell and what it’s used for. That was very cool to see. 

I also love that there are mini-stories within this story, ones that the girls have heard over the years or are witches’ folklore. I also LOVED the music used during these mini-stories in the audiobook, and especially the music during the epilogue and "The Tale of Rapunzel and the Crone"! If anyone knows what the music is, please let me know, because I want to listen to just the music as background music because it was so beautiful!

This book makes me wish I had sisters. I love the sisterhood and the pacts between them and the trust and reliability they have.

Alix Harrow is a talented writer, and I will continue to read her books in the future. I liked The Once and Future Witches, but I didn’t love it. I can’t say exactly why that is, probably because it’s just not quite my style of story, but it was still good, and it’s a book I think I’ll like better the second time around. It’s still well-written and I would still recommend it, though I enjoyed The Ten Thousand Doors of January better and would recommend trying that book first. I can’t wait to see what historical fantasy masterpiece Alix Harrow writes for us next. 

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