The Once and Future Witches

- Alix E. Harrow


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.



There’s no such thing as witches, but there used to be.


absolute favourite:
I would consider myself a fast reader. It rarely takes me more than a day or two to complete a book, even with a busy work schedule. But something about The Once and Future Witches forced me to slow down. I found myself wanting to savour each word and take my time on every page. It doesn’t happen often, but I thoroughly enjoyed the three days I spent enthralled by this story.

There’s no such thing as witches, but there used to be.

It used to be the air was so thick with magic you could taste it on your tongue like ash. Witches lurked in every tangled wood and waited at every midnight-crossroad with sharp-toothed smiles. They conversed with dragons on lonely mountaintops and rode rowan-wood brooms across full moons; they charmed the stars to dance beside them on the solstice and rode to battle with familiars at their heels. It used to be witches were wild as crows and fearless as foxes, because magic blazed bright and the night was theirs.

But then came the plague and the purges. The dragons were slain and the witches were burned and the night belonged to men with torches and crosses.

The Once and Future Witches is very grounded in our real, recognisable world. It took no effort to slip into this story and immediately know what was going on. It left me free to embrace these sisters and start to learn everything about them. Bella, Agnes, and Juniper; the Crone, the Mother, and the Maiden; the will, the words, and the way. There’s so much overlap; stories on top of stories, spells over spells, contrasting and contradicting histories and futures. Nothing is certain, and everything is possible. There’s just so much information and so much to appreciate.

Before The Once and Future Witches, I had only read the Fractured Fables series by Harrow. I really enjoyed these well-written novellas; however, they did nothing to prepare me for this beautiful, heartbreaking piece of work. The closer I got to the end, the less I wanted to read. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for what this narrative was building to, and I definitely didn’t want to finish the story.

I couldn’t believe how much ground was covered here. There is no doubt The Once and Future Witches is set in the past, but it sadly mirrors our modern world much too closely for comfort. The constant undertone of inequality (gender, race, sexuality, criminal justice, and wealth, to name only a few examples) that drives the narrative makes this story believable and relatable despite the magic. The extreme prejudice, hatred, and violence these women face is horrific and, sadly, not surprising.

With so much to love about The Once and Future Witches, it’s hard not to discuss every single component. I would be doing this story a disservice, though, if I didn’t applaud the slow, subtle build of magic and mention how much love I have for these sisters. With a rich, complex history that is teased out with time, it’s impossible to deny what they each brought to the narrative to make it a truly unforgettable story. Betrayal, regret, even fear and hatred – we start with a very shaky foundation that crumbles with time and seems incapable of repair. Yet, this uncertain and tentative bond is truly, breathtakingly, beautiful to behold, and I could not predict the ways in which it would develop, shatter, and change over time.

I’m already looking forward to rereading The Once and Future Witches and could not recommend it more highly. In the meantime, I’ll be here, adding all of Harrow’s books to my TBR and auto-buying every new release.



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