Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

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Star rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis: from Goodreads

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 Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and 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 will need to 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.

General information: This book was published in October 2020 by Orbit Books.

My thoughts:

So…. I really thought this would be a 5/5 for me when I read the blurb. I mean, suffragette witches? Sign me up!

But it just didn’t quite land emotionally with me like I thought it would, especially the ending.

Don’t get me wrong, this book was amazing! The main characters are all flawed but loveable and interesting, and I really related to all of them in different ways. There was really strong character development as well and I loved how well it was worked into the narrative.

There were some plot twists that took me by surprise and had me turning pages (metaphorically- I listened to the audiobook).

And I loved the way the romantic interests of the sisters were worked into the plot. I was really rooting for the romance subplots, especially one character’s (no spoilers).

Another really strong point of the book was its social and historical grounding- the author obviously did her homework and I loved the alternate history she presented. The social issues mentioned were relevant and interesting in ways that worked well for the plot.

I even cried at one part in the middle. No spoilers, but damn, the sisterly bond got me emotional.

So what didn’t connect with me about this book?

Honestly, I have no clue. Maybe it was the audiobook narration. Maybe it was the slow pace. Maybe it was the large cast of characters. Who knows? I just didn’t fall in love with this book like I thought I would.

This book felt very slow-paced to me, which felt out of place during the huge, eventful climax; I wanted to speed up the audiobook narration at some points, which is a problem I’ve never had before with an audiobook. The slow pace didn’t feel purposeful, like in other fantasy books I’ve read before. It was a definite turn-off and I almost DNF’ed the book.

Speaking of DNF’ing- I actually got a physical copy of this book on release day, read a few chapters, and then put it down until a couple of weeks ago, when I caved and got the audiobook. I came so close to a permanent DNF, and as good as this book was, I don’t think I would have regretted it.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was a really good read, it just wasn’t for me.

Trigger warnings: ***possible spoilers ahead***

Major character death (and a gruesome one, at that), torture, homophobia/transphobia, sexism, racism, violence

Have you read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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