I became a fan of Alix Harrow last summer when I read “The Ten Thousand Doors Of January.” (Check out my review here!) Her cover hit me like a tidal wave when I saw it featured at my local bookstore; I immediately downloaded the book on my Kindle and regretted not buying a paperback copy as soon as I was done reading. (I am now the proud owner of the gorgeous novel, it’s one of my favorites to display.)
Harrow’s second book, “The Once and Future Witches,” came highly anticipated- Goodreads noted that one of my favorite authors had a new release debuting in 2020, and when researched further, I found another captivating illustration to swoon over.
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I think that Alix E. Harrow’s books are the exception.
Juniper Eastwood, the youngest sister, is wanted for murder. With bright green eyes, ragged, jet black hair, heavy black cloak, and staff to support a stubborn limp, she looks every bit like a witch, right out of a fairy tale. If she is fleeing from her past, or chasing something in New Salem, she’s undoubtably running, wild and hungry for a fresh start.
Beatrice Eastwood is the wise one. The eldest sister, the first to be exposed to the triumphs and trials of a world outside of her family estate, the first to shed her past in search for something resembling a humble, ordinary life. Her days are spent reading, filing, dutifully maintaining books at the Salem College Library. Sure, her eyes wander every now and then to the words and ways of her childhood, nursery rhymes and spells, shrouded in scholarly exteriors but easy for Beatrice to uncover… but they have no use to her anymore. Witching is dead, forbidden in this new world of law and order, and the magic has drifted away with the memory of her sisters.
Agnes Eastwood is the middle sister, caught up in the middle of a big dilemma. Beautiful, enchanting, yet alone and with child, she doesn’t have many options to weigh. She is a cotton mill employee, moving from a mundane day to lackluster boarding house accommodations at nightfall. Her circle of trust is small- no man, no friend, no family can permeate the ring she draws around herself- but she prefers it that way. Salem doesn’t have much to offer, and at this point, Agnes doesn’t have much to give.
It is true: All three sisters have long ago abandoned their ties to each other and a past that left too many scars. Their cruel father, their passive mother, their fiery, clever, whimsical grandmother all are deceased, leaving the girls to find their way, in whatever ways they know how.
But there is something that does in fact bind them together, something stronger than they understand at first. And it will take the Eastwood sisters reconnecting, to figure out exactly how their puzzle pieces fit together.
This book has so many themes, that if I rattled them off now, I worry that you might be a sceptic, wondering how such a well-crafted book could travel in so many directions. But I assure you, Harrow does it well. And I don’t want to give away all of the details on this one, because much of the fun lies in the mystery. So I can only encourage you to find a cozy corner in your home, sling a blanket over your lap, and dive into this bewitching read. I’m sure you’ll finish in one sitting, long before the evening’s shadows start playing tricks on you.
“There’s no such thing as witches, but there used to be.
It used to be the air was so thick with magic you could taste it on your tongue like ash. Witches lurked in every tangled wood and waited at every midnight-crossroad with sharp- toothed smiles. They conversed with dragons on lonely mountaintops and rode rowan-wood brooms across full moons; they charmed the stars to dance beside them on the solstice and rode to battle with familiars at their heels. It used to be witches were wild as crows and fearless as foxes, because magic blazed bright and the night was theirs.” -The Once And Future Witches
FINAL SCORE: (5) “The Once & Future Witches” intrigued me with its gorgeous cover yet made me nervous due to its weight- I wanted an effortless read to kick off 2021 and I knew Harrow’s writing style to be bursting with literary filigree. Her writing isn’t dense, but definitely wholesome- It requires you to pay attention in the best of ways, like walking through the Sistine Chapel. Everything is awe-inspiring, but… there’s a lot to take in. You need to look at the whole, and all of the parts, to fully appreciate its vastness and beauty.
But this book surprised me in its ability to move quickly- I couldn’t put it down. I was fascinated with the character development and how the storyline shot up through the sky, tall and commanding like the Tower of Avalon, with details intricate and interwoven, like a haven of rose and thorn.
BEST FOR: Those who love female heroes, a dynamic modern-day fairytale, complete with a little magic.
NOT GOOD FOR: You know me: I consult Goodreads reviews when I can’t find any flaws. But some readers said that there were a lot of characters, too many for their liking, and it caused the plot to move more slowly. I can see that, and I ask you to persevere. The characters come together.
IF THIS BOOK/ AUTHOR WAS A HIGH SCHOOL STEREOTYPE/ SUPERLATIVE: The Eastwood sisters would be campaigning for change, I have no doubt: Together, they are unstoppable. Read the book and tell me that you don’t see Juniper running for Class President, Agnes, her Campaign Manager, and Beatrice, the Class Historian.
** Want to see what I’m reading next? Find me on GoodReads and join the 2021 challenge with me! https://www.goodreads.com/addingpunctuation **
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