Review of AUDIOBOOK The Rules of Magic – prequel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRulesofMagicbookreview


I’ve heard so many good things about this series, so decided to treat myself to the Audible version of this Alice Hoffman book.

BLURB: For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

This is such a cool premise and I particularly loved the blurb. I started listening, all set to be blown away by the intensity of the situation, as this skilled, adept writer pulled me right into the middle of this appealing story. And it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, two aspects of Hoffman’s writing really caused me a problem. I am a tad allergic to reams of exposition, where the author sees fit to tell me her version of what is happening, rather than allowing the characters to define the circumstances and explain it through their eyes. The other dealbreaker for me is head hopping and this is also part of Hoffman’s style. In adult fiction, I find it both jarring and irritating as it invariably knocks me out of the story while I work out why I am listening to two viewpoints within the same scene.

Once I realised these traits would continue throughout the book, I had to decide whether my aggravation with the style would result in this book being a DNF – and it is a testament to Hoffman’s writing skill that this didn’t happen. As the excellent narration by Laurence Bouvard gradually pulled me further into the story, I found I wanted to know what happened to Vincent, Franny and Jet. While my enjoyment of the characters was compromised, I cannot fault the worldbuilding and sense of otherness Hoffman manages to evoke with her stylish prose. I particularly liked her continual referencing of the smells around her characters and how they changed depending on what was happening or about to happen – in fact, the richness and sensuality of the writing in general was a huge plus throughout.

The other strength of this interesting book was the narrative arc for each character. As I wasn’t particularly emotionally involved, there were occasions when listening, I wondered if I would ultimately regret my decision to continue with it. Right now, I am not in the mood to listen to an unfurling tragedy, wherein each of these protagonists was going to endure a life of constant loss and grief, and there were times when I thought that would be the case. However, while there are certainly a number of shocking and sad events that take place within the story, it is ultimately an uplifting book and I felt the ending was very well handled. Overall, I am glad I persevered. There is much to admire in this book – I just wish I could have loved it more.

14 responses »

  1. Interesting and thoughtful points, Sarah. You mention some of the things I also enjoyed about this book. In addition, I also loved the way the author examines basic human truths about family, romantic love, etc. and relates them to people everywhere (witches or not:). I wonder if the changing viewpoints might have been easier to follow in the print version, instead of audio, as those didn’t bother me. This was the first book I read by Alice Hoffman, and I was entranced sufficiently by it to read others!

    • Yes, that might have been the case, Becky. Though I’m not a fan of headhopping or large tracts of exposition when reading, either.

      And yes! It was the sheer depth and quality of writing and the richness of each character’s experience that actually held me – which is a great achievement. And I’m also aware that I’m in a relative minority – a lot of people love her writing. It’s just that it’s not to my personal taste.

  2. I’m sorry this didn’t work that well for you, it can be frustrating when you run across things that bother you, like the head hopping style. But I’m impressed that you were able to keep going!

    • The fact I was able to keep going is down to Hoffman’s writing skill – I’ll now know to avoid her. She is undoubtedly a fine writer, but her style isn’t to my taste…

    • Thank you Maddalena – those are two of my pet peeves in adult fiction. Children’s stories are a different matter as semi-onmiscient point of view is part of the genre convention – but it really jars with me when modern authors use it.

  3. That’s a shame. I really enjoyed this and do love this author but we can’t love all the same books after all and it’s good that you pressed on and enjoyed it (to an extent). I’m in much more of a DNF mood at the moment. Perhaps it’s the time of year but if something doesn’t hook me almost immediately I see to have very little patience.
    Lynn 😀

    • Despite finding the headhopping and viewpoint very trying, I did recognise the innate quality of her worldbuilding and the beauty of her prose. So was prepared to press on – it’s a tribute to her talent that I didn’t DNF it:)

  4. Gah, that head-hopping! It’s one thing to shift between two characters, maybe even three. But too much head-hopping and you’re just going to start losing people along the way. And exposition come ON, shouldn’t writers be getting away from the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeendless talkin’? Speaking of endless talking, I’m done, I’m done 😉 xxxxxxxxxx

    • It’s Hoffman’s style – though I’ve never found it quite so intrusive and annoying as with this one. Clearly, I’m not in the majority given how popular she is…

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