In 1893 New Salem, the word witch is the nastiest thing you can call someone. While there used to be witches in the “dark days,” now all that remains are nursery rhymes and small charms passed on from daughter to daughter. With no power left for women, they taken on the march to the ballot box to try and secure the vote. However, that wish is not a clear path as prominent resident George Hill is very clear that women should not get the vote, and witches need to stay gone. That doesn’t sit well with the youngest of the Eastwood sisters, James Juniper. Having mysteriously just arrived in New Salem without a piece of property left to her name, she quickly runs afoul of the locals. It doesn’t help that just as she’s arriving a mysterious tower appears in the center of town with three interlocking circles emblazoned on it. As quickly as the tower appears, it disappears before George Hill and his lackeys are able to investigate. Juniper soon finds her sisters, both desperately wanting to stay quiet and hidden in their lives in the city. Agnes Amaranth is pregnant by a local man, and wants to simply work in a factory and stay out of trouble. She has no desire to marry the father of her child or continue to work with a grabby boss, but sees no alternative. Beatrice Belladonna is a quiet librarian who has always felt that the path of a spinster is the only one left for her as she favors the fairer sex. While Juniper determines that suffrage is not enough and that women need to reclaim their power, Agnes and Beatrice find themselves trying to rescue their little sister and keep her from trouble. However, trouble may be what the women of New Salem need.
The Once and Future Witches is so full of twists and turns, it is a blessing that author Alix E Harrow is our navigator. She is absolutely amazing at creating characters that readers both want to cuddle to them to keep safe and shake them out of what we may think are bad ideas. She also brilliantly includes the names of suffragettes into the narrative, but with subtle enough changes to the names that it doesn’t feel a heavy handed attempt at pointing out the history of women voting in the United States. She has a brilliant Black character named Cleo who is confident, self assured, and plays a major role in it all. I refuse to give away spoilers, but the group names in this book for underground organizations are utterly amazing. I want to gush and tell you every last detail, but I would fail brilliantly because there is so much to this book Harrow does a great job of including different groupings of people and cultures, including myths and legends from even Russia.
While I intended to read The Once and Future Witches in segments so to savor this book like a fine meal, I ended up devouring it without stopping like the glutton for great writing that I am. This would make an incredible limited series and I seriously hope that someone options the rights to this as soon as possible.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is available from Redhook Books October 13, 2020.