Magic Lessons

- Alice Hoffman


Where does the story of the Owens family begin? With a baby abandoned in a snowy field in the 1600s. Under the care of Hannah Owens, little Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows.

When Maria is abandoned by the man she loves, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s is here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.



She was found on a January day in a field where the junipers grew, wound in a blue blanket with her name carefully stitched along the border with silk thread.


Maybe because I have no nostalgic ties to Practical Magic (actually, I know nothing about the book or the movie besides the fact that it has a cult fan following), but I wanted to like Magic Lessons more than I did.

I think Maria is supposed to be this strong, witchy, self-sacrificing character, but her absolute stupidity was hard to overcome. After vowing not to fall in love as a child (yeah, that always ends well), she ignores all the evidence being thrown in her face over and over again and pursues a dangerous and abusive man while ignoring a kind and decent one right in front of her. Finally, she’s forced by near death to give up on her failed love story, only to turn around and deny that she’s always been in love with someone else and decide that she must save him by constantly leading him on and pushing him away. What!? I know that ‘love’ is the central theme of this book, but this very messy love story took up so much time and energy and provided so much nonsense clutter to everything else going on.
“No one can fall in love with me,” Maria told Abraham. “Don’t wish that on your son.”

“I know love when I see it,” Abraham Dias insisted. “I see it in you.”

He gave her his ring and told her the secret that he had learned about love during his time on earth. Then he closed his eyes. He had nothing more to say; he wasn’t even in the room anymore, not in Manhattan, not in the year of 1691, not in a house on Maiden Lane. He was with his wife when he first met her. How beautiful she was, with her straight black hair that was so long she could sit on it, or wear it wound atop her head so that she looked like a queen who wore a dark crown. When you fall in love like that, time doesn’t matter. This was the secret he told Maria, the last words he ever said.

What belonged to you once, will always belong to you.

Be grateful if you have walked through the world with another’s heart in your hand.
When Maria stops getting in her own way, she is strong and witchy and everything I was hoping for. Unfortunately, she passes on her inconsistent nature to her daughter. Faith manages to stick to her childhood vow to shun love, but her personality fluctuates to suit the narrative. When separated from her mother, Faith is a secret witch, hiding her true nature and playing a role to save her life. She pines for her mother – until they’re reunited. Then she’s bitter and resentful and turns to black magic to prove herself until she vows to stop. Until she has to use it again. But then she’ll stop. Well, maybe after she enacts an epic revenge fantasy, but then she’ll be done. Until it’s not. I couldn’t keep up, and it started to bother me that you had to wait and see which version of Faith you were getting with every appearance.

This was my first book by Hoffman. It may have been a strange choice to read the series in this order, and I may come to regret not starting with Practical Magic, but I’d rather read the overarching story from start to finish. I can certainly appreciate Hoffman’s way with words, even if the story didn’t blow me away.
If she had been another woman, he would have sworn there were tears in her eyes.

A witch’s tears burn, they turn her inside out, they are not meant to be, and yet once they began they were difficult to stop. A witch could drown in her own tears if she wasn’t careful; she could scorch the ground beneath her. As Maria watched Samuel go, she was thinking of Abraham, buried a mile away, an expert on love, who had told her in the moments before his death that he saw love inside her. It looked like a dove, he said, but appearances could fool you. Some people mistakenly believed it was peaceful and calm, but that wasn’t what love was. It was a wolf. If you open the door and call it inside, you must sink to your knees and say its name, you must do so whether you are cursed or not.

That was the mystery Abraham had come to understand. Always and everywhere, love was the answer.
I may have had to convince myself a few times that Magic Lessons was exciting, not frustrating, but I am interested to see where this series and the family curse is going. If nothing else, I need to at least make it to Practical Magic – otherwise, what was the point of starting this series? I’m just hoping the family tree gets a little wiser and a little more consistent as it branches out. If Maria is going to be revered as the matriarch of this great witchy family, let’s hope her offspring emulate only her best qualities.



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