The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review
This epic story follows the lives of three sisters, descendants of witches, who have been separated by fate and falsehoods, but are brought together again through mutual pain and longing.
The Eastwood sisters, each having endured separate tragedies, find each other again in New Salem in the 1800s. They have been apart for some time, but one half-conjured spell is enough to forge an unbreakable link between the three. While they are rediscovering each other, and dealing with their past issues, they come to realize they meet the archetypes necessary to call back the Lost Tower of Avalon, the last stronghold of witchcraft on Earth which was burned by men who feared the witches’ power and independence.
Bella, The Crone, is a librarian who prizes knowledge, and will become the wise mentor of the group who catalogues all their recovered spells. Agnes, The Mother, single and pregnant in a time when that was not at all acceptable, but who is stronger and more capable than she realizes. Juniper, The Maiden, is a fierce warrior, fearless, but with a dark history that will play a part in the outcome.
Together, the three will become The Last Three and uncover The Lost Tower, giving women the power to make their lives a little more bearable in an age when women are considered property and not afforded any real rights, not least of all the ability to vote for their leaders.
The author skillfully hides the lost spells of witches in children’s rhymes and fairy tales, the last place any man would think to look, to keep them safe for future generations. One male witch, however, seeks to root out and destroy all knowledge of witchcraft so that he alone has power, and can enthrall a city to his bidding. In the end, the only way to stop a new round of witch burnings, and save Agnes’s daughter, is to destroy the hold Gideon Hill has on the city. It won’t be easy though, because he has just been elected as Mayor of New Salem and has made puppets of half the population.
There were multiple points in this 530 page tome where I felt, okay, they have reached their end goal, what could possibly be left? However, the author quickly wrote in another roadblock, another obstacle to overcome. While the story was long, it was absorbing, and only in a couple of places, like midway through, did I feel the pacing was slow.
Overall, a very good story, one that takes the reader in completely unexpected directions. The characterization of the three, as well as the antagonist and a few secondary players, was well drawn. I especially enjoyed Juniper, who started out so brash and angry at the world but by the end had actually come around to feel empathy for Gideon Hill and was unable to kill him, despite very good reasons to do so. I give this book 4.5 stars and recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy or paranormal novels that contain very strong, independent female characters.