A magical, gritty tale of witches, independence and freedom.
It has been a while booknerds! My apologies, uni has made my timetable a tad chaotic, i’m still working out the kinks! But I am back ith a review for one of my most anticipated reads of this year!!!!
Synopsis: “Once upon a time there were three witches”. In 1893 there are no witches left, not after the burnings. In a world were witchcraft has been reduced to rhymes and charms, a woman must fight for the right to vote if she wants the power to change things.
There are no witches left, “but there will be.” The Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New York, and in a bid for freedom the begin to pursue the words and ways that have been long forgotten. The movement is a witch’s movement and they want their power back. But, the shadows and sickness threaten their ambitions, and the sisters must come together if they want to win this fight.
CW/TW: Oppression/mentions of racism/sexism/witch burnings/imprisonment/torture/abuse/sexual harassment/ – may be more I missed.
“There Is No Such Thing As Witches, But There Will Be.”
So I absolutely adored Alix E Harrow’s “Ten Thousand Doors Of January” so when I saw this beautiful book full of witchcraft and suffragette’s I HAD to request it – and I was incredibly lucky to receive an ARC of it (Thank you to Orbit/Nazia!). And, I was not disappointed, I really enjoyed the story woven through the pages of this book.
The Once And Future Witches reads like a Grimm’s Fairytale in and of itself, that with the addition of the ‘Sisters Grimm’s’ stories being interwoven throughout gave this book an ethereal but gritty feel, that was both elevating and grounding at the same time. I adore fairytales, and even more so when they are dark, grimm or twisted and Harrow did an excellent job in weaving the little Grimm tales together to add meaning and lessons to the bigger story, and managed to capture the Grimm feel in her own story perfectly.
The writing is beautiful, the fairytale feel is there but the grimm twists makes it a powerful and compelling story that hits on important topics and struggles. It is captivating and the rhetoric is impactful, the repetition and use of threes is done well and adds to the story – making the magical element more present and embedded. Overall, the pace is decent, with highs and lows, action and emotion, personal and systemic focus, all balanced out – I will admit at times it did fell a little too slow but the story was intriguing enough that it didn’t drag or make me put the book down.
The multiple POV worked well, allowing us insight into how each sister was feeling and on their strengths when it comes to witchcraft (be it the words, ways or will). I also liked how the fairytales were interwoven with the chapters, I adored the ‘words’ at the start of each chapter that fit into the overall theme or goal of that part of the story and finally, I liked how the story was split into parts. These structural elements added depth to the story and I really enjoyed how it bought it all together.
I adored the actual story/plot. The story’s core focus is about women gaining power and independence, or freedom. But, a lot of books that focus on this fall into the trap of looking at the empowerment of straight, white, able women. This book does not and looks at the empowerment of all women – which is what we truly mean when we say we want equality and I really loved that. The story focuses on the oppression of women and racism, as well as having a ‘disabled’ character, and a gay character, at the forefront as well as multiple poc side characters and LGBTQ+ side characters.
This is a story about womanhood, motherhood, sisterhood. It is about the struggles and obstacles that everyone who identifies as a woman faces. Harrow explores this in so many ways from the three Archetypes we all see everywhere (The Maiden, The Mother, The Crone) to how the individual and their specific circumstances defines what womanhood is to them. The cultural, ethnic, familial, class differences that shape our experiences – because as women while we all face oppression under the patriarchal system, we do not all face THE EXACT same type of oppression, and it is important to understand that and come together to fight against all types of oppression for women to be truly free, from racial oppression to oppression of the LGBTQ+ communities. And I think this is shown and explored well in this book.
The story utilises witchcraft, something women were persecuted for, and brings it to life as a force of empowerment for women – and I truly loved it. This story is full of twists and turns, the magical element is fascinating, the focus on knowledge was something I truly adore and found to be unique, but its core, its message of empowerment, of a community of all women is what truly makes this story shine.
I also loved that witchcraft was dependent on three things; the words, the will, the way. It was intriguing because it meant, in theory, it is accessible to everyone, especially those who truly need it. Moreover, I enjoyed the words aspect most, the knowledge aspect, it was crafted beautifully, the idea that witchcraft can never be killed, that women’s power, our strength and bravery will never be dampened or extinguished was a powerful message throughout the book and came alive through the use of witchcraft and knowledge.
However, I think it is important to note that Harrow manages to craft this story of female empowerment without ‘bashing’ on men. She creates a realistic story, a story where men do abuse and sexually harass women, where they actively try to dominate them to maintain control and power. But, she also has male characters who try to support the suffragist movement. I note this because I have seen a lot of books that focus on women get hate – and this book most certainly deserves to be loved not hated.
Moreover, this book comes across as real. It may be historical but it is still relevant, the story, the issues are all things we can relate to and I loved it. I loved how the sisters search for the lost ways, the forgotten words. I love how women hid magic in nursery rhymes, how the sisters have to band together to fight for freedom and to win against the main villain. I loved how magic is everywhere, how the women can feel it in their veins, how the sisters are bound and how it is powerful when used right. This story will definitely keep you on your toes.
The characters themselves are fascinating because they are all flawed, they are so realistic in their flaws that it makes this story all the more powerful. I will admit that the three sisters to fall heavily into the tropes they represent (Maiden, Mother, Crone) but, I didn’t actually have an issue with this because; firstly, they believed they had to fit into these archetypes (representative of women in society believing they have to be mother’s, grandmother’s etc..). Secondly, because the story has a grimm fairytale feel overall, it didn’t make the characters feel flat it just added to the dark fairytale tone/atmosphere. Finally, the last quarter of the story actually addresses these archetypes and discusses it in a brief but interesting way. So I didn’t mind this at all as the characters still felt real enough due to their flaw, relationships and beliefs.
“The wayward sisters, hand in hand,
Burned and bound, our stolen crown,
But what is lost, that can’t be found?”
As I said the characters are diverse and representative of all women. James Juniper, the wild sister, has a limp and uses a cane – she is the wild sister, the uncontrollable flame. Beatrice Belladonna is an LGBT lead character – she is the wise, bookish sister, who is braver than she seems. Agnes Amaranth is economically deprived, and pregnant for a portion of the story – she is controlled and isolated sister, but one whose anger is frightening. The three also have a traumatic past, with an abusive father. Miss Cleopatra Quinn is also a side character (though quite central at times) and is a Black woman – she is strong and brave, clever and decisive. The book features an f/f relationship, other LGBTQ+ characters, and strong and supportive Black community, and women from all class backgrounds.
I loved the sisters for different reasons, form the wild one to the bookish – they are all strong in their own ways and it is when they combine their strengths that they are strongest. I loved how they were all strong and brave in their own right but together they are unstoppable. I loved their relationship with each other, and with the other characters. I also adored the use of their mother’s names – a simply but beautiful show of power, strength and bravery.
Something I haven’t mentioned is the villain of the story, I found this to be fascinating and shocking. I particularly liked the dynamic between James Juniper and the villain – like two flames come to meet but with extraordinarily different beliefs on how one should wield that fire.
Overall, this is a story about women. It is a story about strength and bravery. About womanhood, sisterhood, independence and knowledge. It is a story about witchcraft and how we all have power but together we are strongest. It is a story about belonging, about wanting to belong, about how we are all different but all are bound by something stronger than we know. This is a brilliant story full of twists and turn, it is shocking and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The prose is beautiful and the characters are flawed and real. I loved it. The ending was potent, unexpected but one that suits the tone of the story – and I thought it made for a good conclusion.
Ok so this review is rambly, a bit of a feminist rant, and doesn’t tell you much about the story itself (because there are far too many spoilers to be said) but I hope it shows that I really did enjoy this book and the messages it holds.
I recommend this to fairytale lovers, particularly grimm ones, to fantasy lovers, and to anyone who enjoys a good magical character driven story.
*Thank you to Orbit/Nazia for my ARC of this beautiful book! I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*