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The Once and Future Witches

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Member Reviews

The writing in "The Once and Future Witches" is stellar, the storyline is provoking, the character list a mile long, and the ultimate message "GIRL POWER!". While this book is considered fantasy, I believe many girls and woman will be able to relate to any of the three strong sisters. Five stars. READ IT
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Alix E. Harrow is back with another escape into the past, infused with the magic.  The year is 1893 and the town is New Salem.  Old Salem was burned, supposedly with all the witches in it, although vestiges of witchcraft have lived on.  Women fight for suffrage, and many fight for better labor conditions.  In a search for power to make change, the Eastwood sisters, Bella, Agnes, and Juniper, unite to bring back the Lost Way of Avalon.  This is not without complications, but they find help in some wonderful allies.  These characters are the book's greatest strength.  They are all complex, and each of them grows over the course of the book.  There is romance, and there are even some familiar tales mixed in.  The plot gets twisty, though, so this book is best read in longer sittings in order to understand how all of the moving parts are working together.  This was a much-welcomed escape read.
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The Once and Future Witches is my first Alix E. Harrow book. I get it now.
If this were a true review I would give this book a 3.5, but I opted to round up for reasons I will go into later.
The book takes place in 1893 and follows three sisters (Belladonna, Agnes, and Juniper). The witches of history have already been burned. The "ways, words, and wills" of witches have been scattered and lost over time. The Eastwood sisters had a wonderful grandmother who shared more spells than the average family member.  Circumstances of youth and a tough dad separated the sisters. Yet they are united by chance and their futures and the futures of all witches are thrust into their hands.
There aren't many "witch stories" out there with full flushed out stories. We all know the fairy tales and songs about them, but I don't think I've ever read something so complete about a witch or the witch tales. The only thing I can compare the book to is "The Crucible" and that's a period of my high school required reading that I would rather forget.
Harrow is a very skilled author and wordsmith. The characters and the way the words come together are lovely. The book is also told in a rotating third person perspective that gives life and feeling that I didn't expect in a story like this.
I love the way she pulls the themes together. The literal sisters, community of sisters, and women. The story is told alongside a town's fight for women's voting rights. The comparison between voting and witch ways was such a compelling and original idea for me. I so wished to see it continue through the book. 
My biggest complaint for this book was the length, but I'm not sure if that could be cut without losing something to the story or the characters. Maybe it wasn't so much the length but the way the story is told. The point in the beginning of the narrative switches around several times. Maybe if some of the plots were more succinct or something. 
It's such a good story. I had to round up because of it's originality, character development, and the writing itself. Harrow is fun and I'm glad to read it. Worth a casual read, but you won't be flipping pages constantly to find out what will happen next.
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This book was received as an ARC from Redhook Books in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own.

At first I did not know what to expect as I read this book. Thinking that it was going to be a fantasy novel but it the plot took a new turn incorporating history with fantasy with women's suffrage and salem witch trials combining with the practices of witchcraft. Most of all, I love the sentiment of sisterly bonds and love James, Agnes, and Beatrice through these tough times of revolt and threats they had from everyone fighting their right to vote and threatening for their lives. A lot was learned throughout this book with a little added excitement.

We will consider adding this book to our YA collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
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The Once and Future Witches is the must-read book for the spooky season! This historical fantasy, full of gorgeous imagery and prose, is the perfect book to curl up with on a cool night. In 1893, three sisters are reunited in New Salem, and they take on women's rights and a devil in tailored clothing. Alix Harrow's new twist on female archetypes and myth is true genius! Highly recommended for those who enjoy excellent, character-driven writing with a slower pace. Thanks to Netgalley and Redhook for the librarian preview. I can't wait to buy the hardcover for my personal collection!
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Thank you Net Galley for an ARC of The Once and Future Witches.   This was a well thought out,  finely crafted novel.  I cannot even wonder how this story came into fruition.  Bravo!  Highly recommend!
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The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is the book I want to tell everyone about and hold close at the same time. It’s genre bending story can be described as fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, or women’s fiction. I want to put it in readers hands and say “Read this, trust me”. It’s a story told over one hundred years ago but change a few minor details and it’s happening right now, today.
Three sisters, Juniper, Agnes, and Bella, grow up with an abusive father after loosing their mother during Juniper’s birth. Their grandmother, Mags, was a Hedge witch, a wise woman, who taught them simple rhymes and tricks. This was a common tradition handed down from grandmothers, mothers, aunties, to young girls in kitchens and homes, birth rooms and gardens. The burning of women, witches, their books and knowledge quieted it all hiding it often in plain sight. In survival instinct, betrayal, two sisters leave one behind. 
All three sisters find themselves in 1893 in New Salem amid a suffragette movement. As Juniper is perused for a crime the sisters are drawn together by bonds that have been weakened, but held strong despite years of mistrust, anger, and resentment. They forge together with local women from mills and factories in a movement parallel to the suffragettes to return witchcraft. Their quest is both to vanquish a foe and find the knowledge left to them by past generations. Alix E. Harrow uses the same gifts she did in The Ten Thousand Doors of January, giving physical power to words themselves. She honors both written words and the oral traditions of stories handed down. At turns her moving, lyrical, simple words tell how stories are coveted and feared, sought and destroyed, fought for again and again throughout time. I urge readers to ignore genre labels. I highly, highly recommend.
A special thanks to Netgalley and Redhook for the Advanced Reader Copy and the opportunity to review The Once and Future Witches. All opinions are my own.
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Salem has been burned to the ground. New Salem has no place and no use for witches. New Salem is modern; there is electricity and work for all. Order abounds. That order may favor men, especially white, straight men, but it keeps society clean and bright. Until one day shadows begin to swallow other shadows.

The powers that be are being disturbed. Not only are suffragists afoot, but three sisters have been pulled in to their orbit and the struggle for equal power. Can they harness the power of magic and become witches themselves? Will they be able to reclaim power for women all over New Salem?

I am a sucker for anything having to do with witches and even more so if the story feels as though it takes place in the real world. Harrow’s characters are gritty and real. Sometimes likeable and sometimes not, these women seem like people I would know and could be friends with. I highly recommend The Once and Future Witches, especially to fans of Alice Hoffman who wouldn’t mind a rougher, more grounded witch story.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing a digital ARC for review purposes.
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After falling in love with Harrow's "The Ten Thousand Doors of January", I jumped on the chance to read this ARC (thank you, NetGalley!). Also, witches are my favorite, and the 19th century is my favorite, so it already felt like this book was made for me.  


Magic. Spells. Fairy Tales. Feminism. LGBTQ+ characters. Commentaries on race, wealth, gender, family, motherhood, relationships, standing out in a world that wants you to blend in. I was blown away by how much Harrow was able to say through a handful of incredibly well-developed characters and witchy happenings. It didn't take me long to feel like I knew the three sisters like old friends, cheering their victories and screaming at their too-risky plans, feeling the tension and love between them.

Harrow's writing style is the absolute best kind. In the vein of Madeline Miller and Erin Morgenstern, she forms the most beautiful, melodic sentences without it ever turning into purple prose. She chooses her words so carefully, and they flow like a river. 

This story made me feel powerful. It made me feel like I can walk into an old bookstore, open an ancient recipe book, and find a spell to cast. It made me feel like fighting even harder for women and minorities and all the marginalized people in the world trying to find their place in it. 

I absolutely fell in love with this book, and I imagine I will read it again. Alix E. Harrow can write me a story every year for the rest of our lives as far as I'm concerned. She has solidified her place on my list of favorite authors ever. 

Highly, highly recommended.
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Alix Harrow's debut novel, "The Ten Thousand Doors of January," captivated me with its lyrical storytelling and put Harrow on my list of fantasy and science-fictions writers to watch. And so, even though - typically - I am not drawn to stories about witches, I requested the ARC of "The Once and Future Witches" as soon as it was offered on NetGalley. Ultimately, unfortunately, I did not enjoy it as much.

"Witches" is a historical fantasy set in 1893, New Salem. In this alternate version of our history, there once were witches in the world, and there was magic, but it went largely extinct after the purge and destruction of Old Salem in the 1600s. Witching now only survives as simple charms that womenfolk secretly employ to make their daily drudge a bit easier. It's also the time of the suffrage movement, the only possible avenue for women - in male-dominated society - to regain some of their power and control over their own lives.

Such are the circumstances under which we are introduced to three Eastwood sister - Bella, Agnes, and Juniper - who set out to transform the suffrage movement into a witches' movement and bring about a full reawakening of magic. On a personal level, when we first meet the sisters the relationship between them is very raw as a result of it being broken by their cruel father. Healing the broken bond between the three of them soon becomes an integral part of the story. 

"The Once and Future Witches" is a feminist story about sisterhood, and fighting for women’s rights, but fundamentally it's about social justice - and included under the umbrella of those the sisters are fighting for are poor women, black women, sex workers, and LGBTQ+ persons, which are all the groups that the historical suffragist movement excluded.

"The Ten Thousand Doors of January" and "The Once and Future Witches" have many things in common, and one of them is the importance of storytelling - eminent in "Witches" in the bedtime stories the sisters recount in their quiet moments. Harrow is really skilled at weaving those fairy-tales, and in narration itself - her prose is lyrical, beguiling, almost entrancing. It's another of the novel's strong points.

The novel is a heavily a character-driven story, the three sisters are very different, with distinct personalities - it's the novel's another strength. The only weakness - but a deal breaker for me - is the pacing. There are some moments when the reader breathlessly turns page after page, trying to keep up with the action, but those are not very frequent. The majority of the plot moves in too languid, too ruminating a pace to have sustained my interest. I put the book down too many times, and in the end made only some progress over a span of almost two weeks. In the end, I moved on.
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Proof that Alix E. Harrow's first book was no fluke. Her second is equally good, no way I could rate one over the other, except maybe after re-reading. Great characters, great plotting, magic mixed with political thought, although I'm willing to admit I may have read some things into it not intended by the author. Highly recommended, and Alix now goes on a list of writers to follow wherever they lead next.
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In 1893 New Salem witches are non-existent, or they're supposed to be however through myths and fables minor magic is still around.  Three estranged sisters wind up in New Salem during a magical event where a legendary tower appears out of thin air.  The sisters realize that it is the fabled Tower of Avalon, believed to be the seat of all witchcraft and the sisters set out to find the tower and reclaim the power of witches for themselves and all the women of New Salem and beyond.  Alix Harrow's books are turning out to be slow burners, they start out at a glacial pace during the world building but still draw you in, then everything speeds up and you're racing towards the end and the Once and Future WItches is now exception.  The first half of the book is slowly paced as you learn about the three sisters, witchcraft and women's lives in 1893.  There is quite a bit of social commentary/issues as the youngest sister gets involved with the suffragette movement, there is a good depiction of what working conditions were like for women and children and one of the few male characters is involved in unionizing.  This is the second book I've read by Alix Harrow and I thoroughly enjoy her world building and female led stories.
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I just loved this book from Alix Harrow. While set in an alternate history where magic exists, it still spoke to clearly to women's roles in society (both past and present). Harrow has a way of making her characters come to life and makes you care about every single one of them.  She could write short stories about all of the minor side characters and I would love to read any of them.
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I finished this book yesterday, and I just had to digest what I read. This will be the perfect read for those who like witch stories, someone looking for a great Halloween read, and those who want women's rights stories. As far as I'm concerned, that is more of what this book is about. Women being treated as second class citizens and the fight for our rights.

The story is quite engaging in parts; a real page-turner. But then, at times, it devolved into an overly wordy page filler.

There are a couple of issues I had with this tale, and those are the usage of modern-day slang during the late 1800s and the fact that I didn't get enough back story. I was never able to figure out just what the sister's father did to them -was he also a witch, or was he a child abuser, pedophile. I felt like I missed some chapters or that I was just stupid for not understanding what was evident to everyone else that read this book.

*ARC supplied by the publisher and author. My thanks to both.
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The Once and Future Witches, a historical feminist fantasy, will delight fans of author Alix E. Harrow's previous, highly lauded, The Ten Thousand Doors of January. As in that book, The Once and Future Witches draws heavily on the (quite literal) magic of storytelling and the ways in which control of the narrative is power, in terms of gender, race, money/class, age, knowledge... in the case of The Once and Future Witches, it's primarily a question of gender, as the 19th century aspiring witches are suffragettes fighting for (white) women's right to vote as well as the ability to work spells on the world, to get some power, some control over their stories. That paranthetical is doing a lot of work here, as the character Miss Cleo Quinn, a Black woman, journalist, and magic-worker herself, would point out, and the historic failings of the women's suffrage movement are not ignored in this magical treatment, any more than is the question of who has the right to define womanhood and "women's magic." 

The Once and Future Witches is a story of stories, and the language reflects perhaps an occasionally overwhelming degree. The stylistic choices to pepper the novel with once-upon-a-times, the significance of threes, and "...but in this story, the witch didn't have to burn" types of lines works, but at over 500 pages, there's a lot of it; likewise, Harrow's taste for alliteration ("wild and wayward women" is a too-frequently used phrase) can get a little much, even for this fairy tale of a novel. Don't get me wrong - it's beautiful, and Harrow has a truly magical way with prose. It's just that the heightened style stands out more and feels a little more technical than in The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but it really does's just far from subtle. 

But does subtlety always matter? The analogy between witchcraft and magical power, and the literal power of political and financial independence, is something of a hammer, but that's because it's barely even trying to be a metaphor. Magic is power - voting is power. Who needs it to be subtle? These women, abused, oppressed, erased at every turn, are taking back control of their narratives, by whatever means they have at their disposal. In the case of the Sisters Eastwood and their comrades in witchcraft, those means are magical. 

Thank you NetGalley and Redhook Books for the advance review copy!

CW: Sexual abuse, child abuse, kidnapping, traumatic pregnancy/birth, medical trauma, mind control, transphobia, torture, racism, police brutality.
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The Once and Future Witches is a story of fighting for your rights, finding strength in each other, and never giving up on the power to change someone's heart. Agnes, Juniper, and Bella are three estranged sisters that find each other and their power amidst the suffragette movement. 

The Once and Future Witches is a reminder of how many institutions and constructs have been built to keep women from finding the power of our unity. How we accept and even build upon these institutions, find ways to divide ourselves, and refuse to open our hearts to each other. Even though this is a story of witches amidst the suffragette movement, it is very much a reflection on this moment. This novel had almost everything: witches, feminism, and Alix E.Harrow's gorgeous prose. I love getting lost in her words. I loved that the sisters are strong and flawed. I love that this book affirms why all dresses should have pockets. 

This was not a perfect novel - the pacing was a bit uneven, and the archetypes (Maiden, Mother, Crone) at times prevented the sisters from feeling like fully fleshed out women. I struggled with the rating on this because of its unevenness. Ultimately, this is a story I keep thinking about. It was a book that makes me want to reach out to my friends and make sure they know how powerful they are. Plus, it has one of the prettiest covers ever. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Orbit for an eArc in exchange for my honest review.
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" 'Witching and women's rights. Suffrage and spells. They're both a kind of power, aren't they? The kind we aren't allowed to have.' The kind I want, says the hungry shine of her eyes."

If this cover isn't my entire aesthetic, I don't know what is. Wow, this book left a sort of unsatisfied burn in me. Not because the plot is left at loose ends (it's not) or because it failed to meet expectations (it exceeded them) but because it's a feminist manifesto clothed in a witch's cloak and bitterness and sweetened with just enough hope and sisterly love to make you crave more. Don't expect neat plots and cute tropes with this one. Come seeking twisted witch tales and plots for revenge, ambitious gambits and heart-wrenching decisions.

The Eastwood sisters grew up in a dangerous household with only each other to hold onto. When that bone-deep loyalty was subverted seven years ago, they parted ways with the seeds of hatred planted among them. Now, in 1893 New Salem, a jaw-dropping show of witchcraft at a suffragist rally will bring broken, bookish Bella, withdrawn, sensible Agnes, and vicious, untameable Juniper back into one another's orbit. Only time will tell if trust can be mended.

Even if this book didn't come in at over 500 pages, I would have a hard time summing up everything it made me feel. Harrow's writing style is vivid and eloquent. The sisters' trials are brutal and realistic. The tantalizing scent of witchcraft beckons. All three sisters strode purposefully into my heart with the force of a binding spell. 

Finally, it wouldn't be true feminism if this were a story of straight white women romping through Salem on their adventures. Class and race are important factors in the plot and social critique. Cleo Quinn, queer black woman and unyielding journalist will seize onto you with her take-no-prisoners confidence. Queer stories in the book braid hardship & misery, love & triumph into one of life's messy knots. I leave my comments here vague for fear of spoiling plot revelations, but know this is no TERF's story of witchcraft.

Usher in spooky season with a feminist bang when this book hits the shelves on 10/13! I hope it destroys all of you like it did me, and I say this with sincere reverance.
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Alix E. Harrow presents another magical novel for readers that is due out just in time for the witchy season!  Set in Salem in 1893, where witches have become a thing of the past, the newest way to punish women was by arresting them for campaigning for women’s right to vote.

When the Eastwood sisters join forces with a suffragist group, no one ever imagined that the women would resort to witchery in order to improve their lives.  For most of the women, the only thing about witching they know from the old days is old nursery rhymes and herbal remedies that have been passed down from their grandmothers.

The Eastwood sisters were raised by such a grandmother.  Beatrice, the scholarly of the 3 sisters, works in the library and one day comes across an old spell and unknowingly says the spell aloud, which sets in motion an unsettling chain of events.

Once Beatrice realizes what she’s done, she and her sisters, Juniper and Agnes, set out to find more spells to set things right and to remove an evil presence that has been hovering over Salem.

This was a fun, fairy tale of a novel and I enjoyed reading all the old nursery rhymes that are scattered throughout the pages of the book.  My only complaint is the story just seemed way too long and some of the information was redundant.  I think some good editing could have moved the story along a bit smoother.  

Many thanks to NetGalley and Redhook Books for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
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This is a powerful, magic-filled tale centering around 3 sisters who have lived through all sorts of abuse and trials.  Their grandmother taught them witch rhymes when they were young, and though witching ways are despised by the ruling class of men, it does not seem so different to me as the right to vote.  Here, the Eastwood sisters seek both; knowledge to use their witching power as well as equality and the right to vote, as they well should.

Many readers will enjoy this story, as it is well-written and its themes and characters are relatable.  But this is a dark tale, and I have not seen proper content warnings aside from the author answering a direct question, which is hidden on Goodreads and entirely missing on Amazon.  Readers, please note all the potential triggers, in the author’s own words:

“Child abuse, both physical and psychological; parental death; arrest and imprisonment; mind control; pregnancy and childbirth, including forced hospitalization; racism; sexism; homophobia, both external and internalized; threat of sexual assault, averted; torture (mostly off-the-page, but alluded to); execution (attempted); child abandonment; major character death.”

I voluntarily read a Review Copy of this book. All opinions stated are solely my own and no one else’s.
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Wow just wow. This book was better than I expected it to be. Besides being beautifully written, it was creative in using children's nursery rhymes and children's stories. I was not sure if it would be a hit or a miss the combining of witches and women's rights, but I found it worked well for the story. 
It was clever, there were a few unexpected twists, and showed the power of recognizing a woman's worth. What more could I ask for?
Thank you to NetGalley and publishers for providing me with a copy of this book.
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