ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover designed by: Lisa Marie Pompilio
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Pages: 528 pages
Published: October 15th, 2020 by Orbit (UK) and October 13th, 2020 by Redhook (US)
Similar to The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Once and Future Witches will be a big hit among many readers.
Not even a year has passed since its first publication, and The Ten Thousand Doors of January already has 33.3k ratings and 6.7k reviews on Goodreads. For those who don’t pay attention to how the number of Goodreads rating/reviews counts to the popularity and general reception of a specific book, believe me when I say that Harrow has achieved something incredible with her debut at an astonishing rate. I’m confident that the feminist story told in The Once and Future Witches will also appeal to many readers. This, however, doesn’t mean that the content of this novel is similar to The Ten Thousand Doors of January. The Once and Future Witches did retain some of the “love for stories” element in Harrow’s debut, but this is, at its core, a story about sisterhood, justice, and fighting for woman’s rights.
“Association has battled for decades to afford women the same respect and legal rights enjoyed by men. It is a battle we are losing: the American public still sees women as housewives at best and witches at worst. We may be either beloved or burned, but never trusted with any degree of power.”
The story in The Once and Future Witches takes place in the year 1893. There’s no such things as witches, there used to be, but witching is now a simple charm or nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants to be in control of a form of power, their only choices lies at the ballot box. The Eastwood sisters—Juniper, Agnes, Bella—are the three main characters of this story, and they’re looking to transform the women’s movement into the witch’s movement while healing the broken bond between the three of them. There’s no such things as witches. But there will be.
“All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”
I do have to mention a caveat that I’m not a huge fan of witches stories; I wouldn’t say I disliked them, I just don’t have a big adoration towards the story. This is also why it’s safe to consider a 3.5 stars rating from me for this novel a high recommendation by my standard. If this novel was written by a less-skillful author, I have a feeling I would’ve given the novel a lower rating. It helped very much to my reading experience, though, that The Once and Future Witches was a thoroughly character-driven story; the three main characters have distinctive personalities, past, and voices to their narration that’s easy to empathize and care for. The themes of justice being discussed in the book are incredibly important in our civilization. It is when the characters gathered, schemed, and fought for their rights and freedom while also doing their best to heal the damages in their bonds that the story excels the most; I wanted even more out of them.
“Must a thing be bound and shelved in order to matter? Some stories were never written down. Some stories were passed by whisper and song, mother to daughter to sister. Bits and pieces were lost over the centuries, I’m sure, details shifted, but not all of them.”
Unfortunately, and this is going to be very subjective, the pacing of the book didn’t click really well with me. In the serious, emotional, or intense moments, I was utterly gripped and compelled to read the book; the pages flew by during these sections. But the slow moments, which I usually love in a character-driven story, felt way too slow at times. Despite Harrow’s continuous display of her beautifully accessible and lyrical prose within her third-person present tense narrative, there were sections where I had to push myself to continue because the plot seemingly fell to a complete halt for me. This was especially true every time the three main characters weren’t together, which—understandably—happened more often than I preferred. Their characterizations and developments with each other were well-realized, though, thankfully.
“Her home was always witch-tales and words, stories into which she could escape when her own became too terrible to bear.”
Although the pacing in the novel didn’t fully click with me, The Once and Future Witches goes to show that Harrow certainly can write great standalone novels. Plus, the ending was satisfying, and I’m sure this is another story that will stick for a long time with many readers.
“She thought a 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? What if there’s an invisible tipping point somewhere along the way when one becomes three becomes infinite, when there are so many of you inside that circle that you become hydra-headed, invincible?”
Official release date: 15th October 2020 (UK) and 13th October 2020 (US)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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