Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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As much as I anticipated this book and as much as I wanted to read it (as I’d read anything Alix E. Harrow writes), it released right about when I was in the worst of my slump. So it waited. And waited. Until finally, the time seemed about right. I have to admit that in the end, I didn’t like it quite as much as The Ten Thousand Doors of January – still, it was enjoyable enough, very witchy and very angry.

She thought survival was a selfish thing, a circle drawn tight around your heart. She thought the more people you let inside that circle the more ways the world had to hurt you, the more ways you could fail them and be failed in turn. But what if it’s the opposite, and there are more people to catch you when you fall?

James Juniper Eastwood has barely arrived into the town of New Salem, when she runs into her estranged sisters at a suffragist march. Soon, they begin to plan how to revive nearly forgotten witchcraft – and perhaps return some power to women.

To be honest, the first half of the book didn’t really draw me in. The prose was an absolute delight as usual, but the plot meandered, I wasn’t attached to all the characters instantly (Agnes annoyed me for a good part somewhere in the middle) and I wasn’t sure exactly what’s the point of it all, or where is it going. Luckily, it did, eventually, pick up, and from there on, I enjoyed it quite a lot.

As you’d expect from a story about suffragist witches, it’s an angry book. It’s not especially subtle in the handling of its themes, it doesn’t offer any new revelations, but boy is witches sticking it to the patriarchy cathartic. I also liked the magic, simple but it works.

All in all, while it might not have blown me away as her debut did, Alix E. Harrow still remains one of the authors whose books I’d buy on sight.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 4/5

Recommended to: fans of lovely prose, historical fantasy, and witches sticking it to the patriarchy, those looking for LGBTQ+ representation (one of the sisters is a lesbian)
Not recommended to: those who hate vague magic, those who like their stories more subtle and less angry

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