cover image The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches

Alix E. Harrow. Redhook, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-42204-8

Harrow’s sophomore novel (after The Ten Thousand Doors of January) is a love letter to folklore and the rebellious women of history. The Eastwood sisters—bookish Beatrice, stoic Agnes, and feral Juniper—each paid a high price to escape their abusive parents and harsh childhood in an alternate 1893 America where witchcraft is real, illegal, and all but extinct. When a legendary rose-covered tower manifests in New Salem, the Eastwood sisters reunite as adults, drawn to its power. Assisted by New Salem’s working-class and black communities, they set out to bring back real magic, but their actions accidentally boost a terrifying, repressive politician to fame. Harrow gestures at a diverse, gender-neutral vision of witchcraft, through which men cast spells in Latin, the Dakota Sioux use dances, and black witches use songs and constellations, but despite the inclusive background cast and manifesto moments (in Harrow’s imagining, a witch is “any woman who... fights for her fair share”), the racial and gender politics are oversimplified as the focus remains tightly on the sisters. Still, their path to empowerment is entertaining, and Harrow’s world is gleefully referential; folklore and history enthusiasts will have a feast. Agent: Kate McKean, Morhaim Literary. (Oct.)