I loved the cover of this one – and the premise, which sounded great. However, I don’t think I’d appreciated just how gritty a read it would prove to be – but that’s down to me rather than Harrow. It’s not her fault that this book appeared at a time when all our lives are being twisted into something we can no longer call normal, with no end in sight. So I have put all those considerations into my back pocket as much as possible, because a book of this calibre deserves to be read mindfully.
BLURB: 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.
REVIEW: This is an alternate history, of sorts. Because just imagine that instead of women being discriminated against because they are physically weaker and often objects of desire, often encumbered by helpless children – there is an extra twist of fear. That they are witches. And when they were witches, women were often in charge. Until the nexus of their power was burnt, along with every practitioner the witch-hunters could get hold of. But many women still have a few household charms that they whisper to their daughters, when no one is looking, with bits of advice on how to stay safe. Except for the Eastwood sisters, who’s mother died in childbirth, leaving them to the mercy of their brutal father – and a beloved grandmother, who lived in a tumbledown cottage in a forest. Theirs was an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy – and from being a tight-knit unit, they were finally ripped apart in a welter of anger and betrayal.
And this is where the book starts… I found it initially a hard read. The setting is in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, where capitalism is red in tooth and claw and workers’ rights are simply not considered. Especially if those workers are women and children. The writing is beguiling – poetic and beautiful and each sister’s strength and weaknesses are portrayed with insightful compassion. I did worry that this was going to be one of those beautifully written books with an ultimately bleak ending. And I hope it won’t be regarded as a spoiler if I reveal that I was mightily relieved when it didn’t turn out to be the case.
I am also conscious that this review sounds as if there isn’t much going on – but this book is packed with intrigue, tension and sudden, violent bursts of action that had me reading far later than I’d wanted to. In short, it is a stunning portrayal of a lovely premise – I particularly enjoyed Harrow’s playing about with the wording of nursery rhymes. And I highly recommend this passionate, moving book to anyone who enjoys reading about witches. While I obtained an arc of The Once and Future Witches via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
After having been away for a couple of weeks, this last week has been a blur of catching up – but also resuming activities I haven’t done since before Lockdown in March. Like attending my first Fitstep session on Wednesday, and teaching Tim on Friday. I am very thankful that I’d had those two weeks away in Bexhill, where we went out every single day for at least a walk along the seafront and occasionally for a coffee or lunch at the wonderful art deco Pavillion, where their safeguarding measures are the best I’ve seen, anywhere. My pictures this week come from Bexhill, again…
So I’ve lost the tight-knit knot of fear that used to appear every time I’d walked through my back gate, masked up to face a world full of jagged differences. Just as well, really. Last Sunday, I drove to Basingstoke accompanied by my younger sister to visit our youngest sibling, who was celebrating her 50th birthday. Instead of having the large family celebration she’d wanted, we all took turns to pop in to see her to ensure we didn’t break the Rule of Six and she had an ongoing series of visitors over the weekend, all organised by her husband. So it was a complete surprise to her as to who would be turning up on her doorstep. The catch was that the road we normally take was closed for some reason – so while we got there on time, we’d wandered down some very, very narrow roads via the detour. On the way home, while following an alternative route, we managed to get magnificently lost. However, the journey was on A-roads that wound through open countryside and through tree-covered tunnels, with rich, buttery Autumn sunshine slipping through the greenery. It was absolutely beautiful – and even though I didn’t have a clue where we were, I recall looking around feeling very glad to just be there. Fortuntely, soon afterwards, we arrived on the outskirts of Chichester and just half an hour from home on familiar roads.
On Thursday, I drove over to see my daughter and grandchildren which was lovely – it seemed far too long since I’d seen them. I couldn’t get over how many more words Eliza now has – she’s a real little chatterbox, so very much like her mother at the same age! On Friday, Himself and I returned to pick up Frank after school and bring him to stay, so I had a chance to catch up with him. It’s his GCSE year, so he’s working hard towards his mock exams in a year where everything is so very different.
Last week I read: The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths PS: thanks for the murders. The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death. But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her… And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to… And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure… Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all. This intriguing murder mystery continues the literary theme started in the previous book. It isn’t a cosy, but it certainly seems to follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s type of whodunit and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Lost Hero – Book 1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan JASON HAS A PROBLEM. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything—except that everything seems very wrong.
PIPER HAS A SECRET. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.
LEO HAS A WAY WITH TOOLS. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts? Well this was huge fun and nicely filled the gap left since I finished listening to Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. And I’m delighted to see that we have all the books – so I shall be enjoying more of these, too. Review to follow.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow 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. This is a brilliant read. I absolutely loved it, but I did find it something of a struggle, as the poor Eastwood sisters had a very rough time of it and I’m not really in the place to read such grim grittiness. But that isn’t the author’s fault – and I will be reviewing it in due course.
It’s been a crazy week – full of resuming threads of my old life, as well as catching up. What I’m no longer doing is sitting at the computer until stupid o’clock to continue working. So no posts to recommend again this week, I’m afraid. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.