The Once and Future Witches

I absolutely loved The Once and Future Witches (2020) by Alix E. Harrow! From very near the first page, I was enthralled, I marked my first quote on page 12. (Marking a quote early on is usually a very good sign.)

Juniper, Agnes, and Bella are three sisters separated for many years, but they now all find themselves in the fictional town of New Salem, which is somewhere in the United States in the latter part of the 1800s or early 1900s in this alternative history. (It felt midwest-ish but it could be anywhere in the south or east as well.) June is on the run, wanted for the murder of their abusive father. Agnes works in a factory, surviving as best she can, but she’s pregnant and not sure what she’s going to do. Bella is a librarian at the college, and she brings them all together again when she finds a rhyme in an old book and reads it aloud. A vision of a tower appears, and “witching” is back in the world. Can the sisters work together to find the lost city of Avalon, find enough women to help because they want to be free, and to defeat the evil that has lived in New Salem for hundreds of years, using different bodies?

I have a soft spot for books about 3 sisters and their relationship, generally, but when you add in the feminism and women’s suffrage, the fact it is alternative historical fantasy that could have been in Indiana (Chicago was mentioned, and the author has connections to Kentucky), the queer storylines, and the anti-racist and labor union elements, I was completely and totally blown away! I absolutely loved it.

And it was completely weight-neutral, if a bit fat-positive!! The three sisters are shaped differently, and described neutrally. There are a few immigrant women characters described as large, neutrally, and one suffragist is described as a “fat, fashionable widow” who is a love interest as well. I found nothing that was anti-fat biased, thankfully!

I would love to see something of a sequel or prequel–although it was 500 pages, I tried to make it last so I didn’t have to leave it. I wanted to stay there as long as I could. I will definitely be reading more by the author.

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