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

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

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d like to thank the publisher (Orbit/Redhook) for gifting me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. While I deeply appreciate the gift, the giving of it had no impact on the thoughts and opinions expressed below.

One witch you can laugh at. Three you can burn. But what do you do with a hundred?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January was my favorite book of 2019. I adored Harrow’s way with and respect for words and stories. The tale was such an ode to both that it made my heart feel as though it would burst. I kept having to pause periodically and close the book and my eyes so I could just soak in the exquisite prose. I wasn’t sure Harrow could ever again pen something quite that beautiful. But while I didn’t quite connect to her second novel as deeply as I did her first, I needn’t have worried. The Once and Future Witches is just as lovingly and impeccably crafted as Harrow’s incredible debut.

“Sometimes a thing is too dangerous to be written down or said straight out. Sometimes you have to slip it in slantwise, half-hidden.”

I love the symmetry of the first three chapters. The introduction of each sister feels whimsical because of it. The way in which Harrow takes familiar fairy tales and turns them on their heads in subtle, interesting ways is also very effective. The story is in large part a blending of fairy tales and the women’s suffrage movement, which felt like a unique combination. However, while I was infatuated by the form, the soul of this novel resides within the three sisters at its core: James Juniper, the youngest and wildest; Beatrice Belladonna, the oldest and wisest; and Agnes Amaranth, the strong one between them. But when we first meet these sisters, they are far from each other, and from who they were each meant to be. Witnessing their growth over the course of the novel, both internally and in their bond as sisters, was lovely to behold.

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 wats the world had to hurt you. 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?

The novel is so purposefully and perfectly written that it was actually difficult for me to establish any emotional connection. It reminded me of The Starless Sea in this regard, though I definitely enjoyed The Once and Future Witches more. But I enjoyed it on a purely cerebral level instead of ever truly feeling it, try as I might. I think that lack of connection is likely a failing on my part, a side effect of the horrific year that has been 2020. Both my personal life and the state of the world have been so chaotic and terrible that things which would usually impact me deeply can’t seem to touch me at all. It’s quite possible that this lack of connection will be completely rectified on a reread, when my world is (hopefully) a little less awful.

Fate is a story people tell themselves so they can believe everything happens for a reason, that the whole awful world is fitted together like some perfect machine, with blood for oil and bones for brass. That every child locked in her cellar or girl chained to her loom is in her right and proper place.
She doesn’t much care for fate.

I’m so thrilled to have been given the opportunity to read Harrow’s newest novel. It’s a story I definitely intend to read again. And I have a feeling that it will resonate more deeply with me the next time I visit with the Eastwood sisters as they take New Salem by storm. If you’re looking for a beautiful, witchy, feminist way to celebrate Halloween, is this ever the book for you.

All above quotations were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.

Publication date: October 13, 2020.

You can order this book from: (Support independent bookstores!) | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

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