The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

“Witches and women’s rights. Suffrage and spells. They’re both…a kind of power…the kind we’re not allowed to have.”

I’m not often drawn to books involving witches to be honest. I love an annual viewing of Hocus Pocus (who doesn’t?!) but that is usually where the affinity ends.

If anything can change my nonchalance, I suspect it may be Alix E. Harrow. This is the first piece of work I have read by the Hugo award winning writer and I don’t need any tarot cards to predict it will not be the last. From the outset of The Once and Future Witches I was hooked: the worldbuilding alone is amazing; you can immediately picture the mills, avenues, squares and slums of New Salem as well as the mysterious tower that pulls our three main characters together.

The three Eastwood sisters themselves are another work of art. Juniper, Agnes and Bella are fierce, formidable women in wildly different ways. They are also flawed, stubborn and quite frankly, inspirational: by linking women’s rights and witchcraft this fantasy novel suddenly becomes more real and relatable to the modern female reader, despite being set in 1893. We empathise, sympathise and rage right alongside the Eastwood sisters on their quest for equality in a male-controlled world.

However, not even witches can act alone and the Eastwood sisters have an amazing cast of supporting characters surrounding them. Impressively, not a single one of these characters can be accused of being two-dimensional: the character development that Harrow has invested into this novel is incredible and must have taken so much work! From the Suffragette’s secretary to the skin-crawling villain to the women and men fighting (and witching) side by side; every single character is substantial and memorable. The sarcasm within Juniper for example is hilarious and even the traditional figures of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone refuse to conform to stereotypes: I LOVED it!

The format of this novel is very clever and practically forbids you from becoming too comfortable by peppering the main story with “witch-tales”. These complement rather than distract from the storyline and also provide small changes that make you smile – such as the tales of the Sisters Grimm.

Do not be fooled though: the use of witch-tales does not prevent The Once and Future Witches from being an incredibly modern piece of writing. Topics covered include sexuality, gender identity, feminism, race as well as smashing the patriarchy: all interspersed with magic, betrayal and a hell of a lot of emotion.

I would however argue that some topics are slightly too mature for the novel to be considered YA, the description of torture and suggestions of sexual abuse probably push this book firmly into general/adult fantasy fiction novels.

The Once and Future Witches is a future bestseller in my opinion. This unique, powerful novel provides characters that you can’t help but empathise with; slow-burning, intense relationships; the trials and tribulations that come with sisterhood and plot twists at every turn.

This book will swallow you heart and soul, make you laugh, make you cry and leave you bereft at the end.  

It is a must read!

Thank you to Netgalley for luring me in with this recommendation and the gorgeous cover art. Thank you to Alix E Harrow for providing such an amazing story for this ARC review. All the opinions expressed are my own.

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