The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Some books stole my heart through the worlds they convey. Some books seduced me with two sentences of a prologue. This book - took hold of me with the dedication:

To my mother and grandmothers and all the women they burned before us

As a side note - this book is a perfect example of how torturous ARCs can be: not being able to talk about what this book until after the release date. Thanks, NetGalley...

The blurb reads:

"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 story takes place in a town of New Salem in 1893. The City Without Sin is entering the Progressive Era, and women's rights movement is on the rise. The magic is a relic of past, a cheap trick with no place for in modern society. 

We arrive at New Salem's train station along with James Juniper Eastwood, a headstrong and a bit brash young woman on the run. As if by chance, she notices an ad on a board calling "All ladies who tire of tyranny". Needing a destination to avoid confrontation with a police officer, she decides to make way to the gathering, where the events will bring her and her estranged sisters together.

The sisters couldn't be more different from one another; the youngest - the wild and feral one, the middle - the tireless and the unflinching one, and the eldest - the listening one, the wise one. 

They are joined on their journey by a wealth of characters, each of them with their own past and desires, strengths and shattered hopes. 

The pace of the story is varied - comes in ebbs and flows; this may not be up everyone's alley, but I found it well suited to the events. The hints and snippets from characters' backstories are coming at just the right time and in just the right amount to keep the reader's interest. 

Alix's writing captivated me. She perfectly touches on difficult subjects, like class, gender, and racial injustice, workers rights, domestic violence, abortion, and LGBTQ issues, in a compassionate manner, though her voice is loud. 

I was expecting the feelings to come in waves while reading the story. What I felt, mostly, was anger - at the injustice, the acquiescence of those who resigned themselves to not wanting more because of the fear of repercussions or internalised belief of not deserving it. The history of witchcraft is a history of women - the headstrong ones, the smart ones, the daring ones; women whose views and opinions were too inconvenient, or dangerous, to be left unchecked by those in power.

"That temper will get you burnt at the damn stake. A wise woman keeps her burning on the inside."

I cannot say that there was an individual character that I could closely identify with. Instead, I could relate to the experiences of all three sisters and a lot of the side characters as well. 

How many of us downplayed our abilities or refrained from speaking up not to rock the boat? How many a time we have wished we had it within us to stand up for ourselves and others?

"Witching and women's rights. Suffrage and spells. They're both..." She gestures in mid-air again. "They're both a kind of power, aren't they?"

 

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The Once and Future Witches on Goodreads

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