A powerful women-driven story full of secrets, shadows, and sisters. The Once and Future Witches is a must-read for witches and woman alike that are seeking a magical tale interwoven with women's issues and the undeniable strength of sisterhood. All you need is the will, the words, and the way.
4.15 stars from The StoryGraph
5 stars (you're surprised!?)
Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, Lgbtqia+
Adventurous, emotional, hopeful
Slow-paced (I marked it as fast-paced and the average is medium-paced)
Graphic: misogyny, death, sexism, Moderate: racism, child abuse, death of parent, Minor: abortion, transphobia, homophobia. See the full list here.
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 three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten 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 must 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. (The StoryGraph)
It's not often I come across standalone fantasy novels, but after reading The Once and Future Witches I wish I came across more. There's something to be said about starting and finishing a story in one book. No cliffhangers. No need for more (even if there is a want). It's one beautiful story wrapped together in a single novel.
Writing Style and Voice
The introduction to this book is only two or three pages, but I already had a very clear voice playing in my head. I immediately thought of Sheryl Yoast from Remember the Titans. That Virginia, southern drawl got stuck in my head and carried forward throughout the entirety of the book. It's not often I hear an accent while reading, but the style in which Alix E. Harrow wrote it made it nearly impossible not to.
The prose was descriptive, passionate, and suited each perspective of the characters. It brought together great writing and the magical elements of the story at hand. This was a world come to life through the clever words written on the page.
One thing I loved most about this novel was how centered the story was on women. Instead of the Brother's Grimm, it was the Sister's Grimm fairytales. The remnants of magic were found in nursery rhymes passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, woven into cross stitch projects - held only within women's work and hobbies. Instead of middle names, they had mother's names. Names given to to daughters by their mothers as secrets, spoken only amongst fellow women and witches.
Complex Main Characters
There are three main characters - sisters. James Juniper is the youngest. Agnes Amaranth is the middle child, and Beatrice Belladonna is the oldest. Each sister's story is interconnected and wound together, yet they each stand as their own complex main character with their own role, arc, and purpose.
I can't say I have a favourite character. I like them each for their own reasons. Juniper is the wild, reckless sister that learns about love and sacrifice, Agnes is powerful and opinionated in the battle between what women must suffer at the hands of men, she is the caregiver that learns there is wealth and safety in numbers, and Bella is the quiet librarian that has to face her fears and step into her true self.
LGBTQIA+ and Diversity
The Once and Future Witches also tackled the horrendous racism that existed in 1893 in America. The segregation, the exclusion - even from the women's movement, the pain the characters had to suffer because they were black, pain that the white characters didn't. While this was hardly the main focus of the novel, I appreciated how Harrow handled it. Again, this issue was woven into this women-centric story. Women, no matter their race, were able to look past the colour of someone's skin more easily because they were all women, they were all witches, and they all wanted the same thing: to bring back witchcraft and power to women.
This leads into the LGBTQIA+ representation. Some of the representation is obvious, like Bella and Cleo being lesbians (side note: I adore their relationship). Other representation came more at the end of the novel. For example, it is revealed a character is transgender. I won't name who, but you read the entire book without knowing this - and for me at least, I didn't suspect it.
I also wonder if Juniper is asexual. She loves her sister's dearly, but as both Agnes and Bella find love, Juniper admits she's never really felt that way about another person. Mind you, Juniper is a fiercely independent being that was raised by an abusive father and lived in a rather isolated area - seeking romantic love was hardly a priority.
Satisfying, but Bittersweet Ending
I must say I didn't expect this story to end in a happily ever after, but I certainly wished for it. The ending is a satisfying one, somewhat bittersweet as it's not the happy ending I wanted, but it works for the story. It all comes to a natural ending and promises a witchcraft-filled future, a mission continued.
I highly recommend this book - and this author. I adore her writing style and the fantastical world she's created in The Once and Future Witches.
"Mama Mags said that was horseshit, and that wickedness was like beauty: in the eye of the beholder. She said proper witching is just a conversation with that red heartbeat, which only ever takes three things: the will to listen to it, the words to speak with it, and the way to let it into the world. The will, the words, and the way." - The Once and Future Witches, pg. X