THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES
After the remarkable success with The Ten Thousand Doors of January, including several nominations to the main awards in the genre, Alix E. Harrow is back to our shelves with The Once and Future Witches. This is a completely independent book from the first one and quite different as well. However, there are some similitudes with the first release such as how Alix treats the magic feature and her love for the classical fantasy stories. Also, this novel is a much more feminist novel, which is quite obvious since you read the book synopsis.
The Once and Future Witches takes us to New Salem, in North America. It is 1893, there are no more witches and witchery is in practice any more. It is forbidden. The only way for women to get some power in the way their lives pass by is by achieving the right to vote that has been denied to them historically. In this context we meet the three main characters in the book: the Eastwood sisters. James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth y Beatrice Belladona join the suffragist movement in New Salem to get this acknowledge.
Since the very beginning in the reading we see the three sisters are very different one to each other. Juniper is the youngest, more impetuous and energetic, while Beatrice, the elder, is more quiet but with further vision and knowledge. The three of them are also witches. A forbidden power that they will be forced to use to overcome the oppression that, as women, they will receive by a good part of the population of New Salem. Starting with the mayoral candidate and who will do as much as possible to kick them out from town.
There is a lot about feminism in The Once and Future Witches, mostly in the first half of the book. Although for some readers this part of the story can be a bit slow in pace, this is the key to understand the motivations of all event taking place in the second half of the story. Harrow introduces several topics that, literally, infuriates the reader. At the same time it is really fascinating to see all the comments and situations that the sisters need to overcome not to be oppressed by the overall women situation. How the Eastwood sisters face all kind of obstacles in order to achieve the right to vote and how this derivate into a witchy story is amazing. A significant amount of citizens in New Salem are also convinced that women´s right to vote will bring dark times to society and will defend what they call the traditional way of life. Doesn´t this sound familiar?
I have to say that the way all the small details on how women were treated in New Salem in this book reminded me a lot on how Mary Robinette Kowal described them in the multi award winning novel The Calculating Stars. All those gender and race issues, among others, found by Elma while trying to get to the stars in an old fashioned NASA are introduced in a quite similar way - IMHO, even better, to those found in The Once and Future Witches.
The Once and Future Witches is mainly a character driven novel. The three sisters take over the story and, even the first half of the story might be a bit slow, I really enjoyed this part of it and I did engage with the sisters. I felt it was essential to understand the whole picture and the motivations behind each of them. Same as in The Ten Thousand Doors of January the mix between historical facts – in a period Harrow knows very well, well known places and magic events worked for me perfectly. With the extra bit of having multiple points of view.
The Once and Future Witches is, definitely, an even better novel than the debut book. Which means a lot considering how I enjoyed the first one. Not only thanks to the main characters but also for the unlimited amount of details that enrich the novel. Even if you are not a fan of witchy novels, all the historical features added to the treatment of the magic given by Harrow makes the reading of The Once and Future Witches an extremely enjoyable time.
Better than anyone else, Alix describes this book in a sentence written in the book: Witchy as hell!