Witchy Witches of all Kinds

Witches in literature have changed quite a bit over the years. From the sinister and mysterious, to the flat-out evil; from the magic-for-good to the naturalist who is one with nature, you can find a book for every type. I am far from an expert in the inclusion of witches in books, but I’m a reader so I have my own experience with witches. Here are a few books with witches of different sorts.

Evil Witches:

These are the ones that often look like hags, live in huts in the middle of nowhere, have a penchant for eating naughty kids, or just like to cause trouble.

Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm- I just had to include at least one Grimm story and this one fits the bill.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (I would argue that they are bit more like the Three Fates, but…)

The Witches by Roald Dahl- Well, this book is terrifying.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum – Here for obvious reasons.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- This book contains one of, if not the most evil witch I’ve read in a book to date.

Good witches: The term “good” is subjective, especially when it comes to magic users in books. Still, I think the witches in these books can at least fall vaguely in this category.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling- Without getting into the author at all, Hermione definitely qualifies as a good witch.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow- No spoilers given.

Small Place by Matthew Samuels – She’s technically good. Okay, she has some questionable anecdotes but for the adventure in Small Places, she is considered good.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede- I loved these books when I was younger! Morwen the witch is the least witchy witch ever and it’s fabulous.

Witches as naturalists: I’m seeing books that are going this route more and more often lately. While I don’t have quite as many titles for this section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one example.

Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece- This book was wonderfully written. The prose was gorgeous and flowed beautifully.

It’s complicated: These books have witches that aren’t witches, witches as representative of other things (such as women’s rights), and other complex females characters with more than a hint of magic about them.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- This book is brilliant! It follows three witches who are, more importantly, three women in search of respect and freedom. This book is chock full of fierce, justifiable anger and I loved it.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller- I’m pretty sure that, by now, the hysteria that gipped communities during the Witch Trials is well known. I remember seeing this play and being fascinated.

The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore- This one was a bit harder for me to get into, but I enjoyed it once it got going.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice- What can I say? It’s Anne Rice. That means the trilogy is incredibly complex, incredibly messed up in parts, and incredibly engrossing.

Time to add to my already-teetering tbr list! What else should be on this list?

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town.

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man―one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to.

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished. (taken from Amazon)

I had high expectations for this one. I’m a sucker for a good haunting, and The Death of Jane Lawrence promised to be something new. The novel follows Jane, a practical woman who decides to marry as a business arrangement: respectability in exchange for a fair amount of autonomy. She decides the reclusive Dr. Lawrence is the perfect candidate. He has zero expectations and his only request is that she stay away from his dilapidated family estate. Of course, that is the one thing she doesn’t do. When Jane finds herself stranded at the manor late one night, it sets in motion events both strange and haunting.

I have to admit that I didn’t end up loving the book the way I thought I would. I struggled to really become invested in the characters or to really care about what happened to them at all. I felt Dr. Lawrence had potential, but instead he became simply a cutout-version of a stereotypical martyr. He seemed determined to give in to his “fate” without a fight, despite there being no reason for him to do so. Long-suffering characters such as that tend to grate on me pretty quickly, so I wasn’t a huge fan. Meanwhile, Jane sort of confused me. She seemed to be constantly angry but forgiving, even if no apology was offered. She is lied to, but decided it’s okay because so-and-so is compassionate toward others. Someone tries to kill her, but it’s okay because they weren’t themselves. Information withheld leads to extreme danger, but it’s okay because the person felt ashamed about it. I wanted to shake her for a good chunk of the book. I suppose the author did get me invested enough that I was almost constantly irritated at Jane’s character, so that is something.

The house itself was the perfect blend of intimidating and lonely. It felt like entering the house caused one to surrender their grip on reality. It was mysterious and dark, and wonderfully atmospheric. The descriptions of the apparitions gave me delighted shivers and the dark, rainy weather was used to great effect. Ultimately, the house sort of became a character in its own right.

The way the book unfolded didn’t quite work for me. I felt that some parts were needlessly drawn out, while other important moments were rushed. It was very odd. I could never quite get a hold on the pacing. However, that disjointed pacing could have been intended as a way to keep the reader off balance and to add to the feeling of “wrongness” that pervaded the story.

I could balance out what I liked and didn’t like about the book, but at the end of the day, The Death of Jane Lawrence just wasn’t for me. Have you read this one? What did you think?

A Radial Act of Free Magic by H.G. Parry

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Radical Act of Free Magic is the conclusion to this genre-defying series of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant tactician Napoléon Bonaparte has risen to power, and under his command, the army of the dead has all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly repressive government. In Saint-Domingue, Fina aids Toussaint Louverture as he navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the French Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic. Across the world, only a few know of his existence, and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Radical Act of Free Magic will be available on July 20th. This is the second book in the Shadow Histories duology. You can find my review for book one, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, here.

I loved A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians and I had high hopes for its sequel. Let me say, A Radical Act of Free Magic did not disappoint! It continued the story perfectly, to the point where I felt like there hadn’t been a pause between the two books at all. This is a fantasy take on history (as evidenced by the fact that Wilberforce, Robespierre, and Napoleon are all characters) and Parry wrote it beautifully and with confidence. I think it takes a fair amount of skill to pull off something this ambitious. I have to say, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Parry came up with the idea for this series. Holy crow, it’s unique!

Parry’s writing is vivid and descriptive. I never lacked for details. There is no rushing to get to the action, which makes this a very slow moving book (at least for a good chunk of it). However, I was never bored. I was enthralled from the very beginning, sucked in by the richness of the prose. The story is a complicated one and could be confusing if not for the care taken to make sure each word is perfectly placed.

The characters were fascinating. I hesitate to say that I liked any of them, what with the fact that they are based on real people. Picking a favorite would seem weird to me. They were all great to read about; However, I did find Wilberforce’s point of view to be the most interesting.

I realize that I haven’t talked all that much about the fantasy aspect of this fantasy book. That’s because, oddly enough, it was the part of the book that interested me least. Okay, that doesn’t make sense since it is apparent throughout the story and is tied into the plot rather inextricably, but for me it’s the complex maneuvering and the moments of quiet tension that really drew me in.

This book isn’t all derring-do or action-packed moments. It has a slow build that is nonetheless engrossing. A Radical Act of Free Magic is smart, creative, and absolutely genius. I highly recommend reading it.




The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a rollicking fantasy filled with a little bit of blood and a whole lot of adventure and intrigue. The book (which has Victorian mystery vibes) follows, Roger, a wanna-be surgeon who earns a little extra on the side by virtue of his willingness to liberate a cadaver or two from the local cemetery- all for the sake of science, of course. Unfortunately for Roger (but fortunately for the reader), he picks the wrong cadaver and finds himself accused of murdering, not just one, but several women. Things are looking grim for Roger, but he is saved from the noose by his childhood sweetheart, who binds him to her in a magical ritual, proof that “things can always get worse”.

Sibylla, Roger’s childhood crush, also happens to be royalty. In The Resurrectionist of Caligo, royal blood is proven by the magic that all royalty possesses. I love the magic in this book! It is so very different. I am used to magic that can blast open doors or make someone float. Sibylla’s magic is slightly less…flashy. She has ink that flows from under her fingertips, useful when one needs to write a letter, but an author needs to be creative for magic such as that to work. The authors managed it beautifully. Sibylla does the only thing she can to save her childhood friend from hanging for a crime (she is pretty sure) he didn’t commit. Together, Sibylla and Roger need to figure out who the killer is- before they strike again.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo has a smaller cast of characters, and each person is important. Sibylla is clever, but also a bit naive. To be fair, she hasn’t had a lot of life experience. Her storyline provides the fine details that flesh out the broader plotline, giving little hints to a larger mystery. I found the intrigue and the family sniping interesting, but it was Roger who stole the show in my opinion.

Roger is a down-on-his-luck guy just doing the best he can with what he has. He is a good guy whose morality is a little fluid. His kindness shows in his small ways, such as his relationship with Ghostofmary (who I adore, by the way). His sole hope is to become a licensed doctor, but that requires an education that he can’t afford. He swipes corpses to pay his bills and finagle his way into lectures from surgeons. The knowledge he has provides the broad strokes to the story. His medical expertise, as it were, adds an extra level of fun to an already ghoulishly entertaining tale.

Sibylla and Roger actually share very few pages. Instead, most of their interactions come through misunderstood letters and convoluted messages from third parties. It was truly delightful to see the characters’ frustrations and anger over things that were completely misinterpreted. Add in angry magic-ink bees, and it becomes a singularly entertaining way to develop character relationships.

The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.


Originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

About the blogger:

Jodie is the creator of the Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub blog. She either lives in Florida with her husband and sons, or in a fantasy book-she’ll never tell which. When she’s not reading, Jodie balances her time between homeschooling her hooligans, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and lamenting her inability to pronounce “lozenge”. Find her online at http://www.wittyandsarcasticbookclub.home.blog or https://www.twitter.com/WS_BOOKCLUB.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for a revolution in France, to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for giving me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is available now.

I was interested in this book from the get-go. An alternate version of historical events? Yes, please! A book this ambitious sounds hard to pull off, but author H.G. Parry did it brilliantly. I was caught up in the politics, magic, and historical basis of it. The characters were written dynamically and the story flowed incredibly well.

I saw hints of early Anne’s Rice’s descriptiveness in the prose (high praise from me). The in-depth descriptions, explanations, and the slightly slower build all worked very well. The time taken by the author to really develop the story and setting made the payoff even better. The tension of the storyline built up to a roaring crescendo and I was transfixed.

I have a feeling that this will be one of those books that you either love or hate, nothing in between. I think some books can only evoke strong emotions like that. I fall firmly in the “love” category. Historical fantasy is such an interesting subgenre because of that real-life base that the author springboards off of. Parry obviously put a ton of effort into getting the historical aspects right and it made a huge difference.

I really can’t say that I liked any particular characters (it feels weird saying something like that about characters based on actual people), but I found every single one of them fascinating. H.G. Parry took me right into their heads and gave motivations and showed their reasons for their actions. Whether I agreed with a certain character or not, they were all engrossing.

Seeing as it’s based loosely on the French Revolution, don’t expect a lighthearted story. A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is enthralling, however, and this is an excellent addition to the historical fantasy subgenre.

The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner

Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they perform small miracles and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. 

Hannah, bookish and calm, can coax plants to grow even when the weather is bitterly cold. Sarah, defiant and strong, can control the impulsive nature of fire. And Levana, the fey one, can read the path of the stars to decipher their secrets. 

But darkness is creeping across Europe, threatening the lives of every Jewish person in every village. Each sister will have to make an impossible choice in an effort to survive – and change the fate of their family forever. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit Books for sending me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Light of the Midnight Stars is available now.

Before going on with my review, I have to ooh and aah over the cover. It is absolutely gorgeous! I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but with a cover like this, I was dying to jump right into the story.

Beautifully written and ambitiously told, The Light of the Midnight Stars is an intricate tale of love, loss, and family. It has a darker fairy tale feel to it, that stayed with me long after the final page. It takes elements of Jewish history and folklore and weaves together a tale that manages to be fantastical, while feeling utterly true. I think truth can often be found in the pages of a fantasy book, and this is one example of that.

This book starts with a Rabbi who lives with his family in a small and peaceful place. There is a sense tradition and that everyone knows their place. However, things are not as peaceful as it seems. When tragedy strikes the family’s village, they have to run, changing their names and hiding their past.

The Light of the Midnight Stars is told from the points of view of three sisters with magical powers, each different in both temperament and skill. While I enjoyed each point of view, it was wild and rebellious Sarah that stood out to me. She wasn’t always likable, and actually came across as rather selfish from time to time, but that made her all the more believable. Her complexity made her a fascinating character.

The story itself is complicated, and seems to have many levels. There are examples of antisemitism throughout, and there were instances of the nature that I normally avoid (such as sexual assault), which made it a difficult read. However, while at times it was incredibly harsh, The Light of the Midnight Stars never descended into complete hopelessness. This was a delicate balance that author Rena Rossner kept very well.

This is a slower read. There is a lot of history that is told and the subject matter made it a heavier book for me, emotionally. It took longer to read than my usual books because of it, but it was worth it. I was taken by surprise with some of the things that happened, although in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been. Please be aware that this will be a difficult read for many (it was tough for me) so please go into it with caution, especially if there are things that trigger you. That being said, The Light of the Midnight Stars is an engrossing and creative book, one that I recommend for readers who like a mesh of old and new, and fantasy with a hint of history in it.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow- ARC Review

Amazon.com: The Once and Future Witches (9780316422048): Harrow ...

In the late 1800s, three sisters use witchcraft to change the course of history in a Hugo award-winning author’s powerful novel of magic amid the suffragette movement.
 
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. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on October thirteenth.

Do you know how sometimes people get so angry they feel like punching a wall? This book is the literary equivalent of punching a wall. It’s packed with the fury of women oppressed. And it works perfectly.

In Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, the prose flowed like a stream building into a river. It was beautiful and it took its time. The Once and Future Witches does not have that feel at all. Instead, it is told in staccato bursts of cause and effect. This book rose and fell like a giant wave. I’d take a breath-and get pulled under again.

The story follows three estranged witchy sisters. Juniper is the wild child, the one who starts it all. When she comes across both her sisters in New Salem, they are reunited, past baggage in tow. Never content to sit on the sidelines, Juniper jumps straight into the suffragist movement, from there doing her absolute best to make everyone and their dog mad. Juniper was unpredictable and interesting to read. I never knew what to expect from her character, only that it would cause trouble.

Beatrice is the middle child and the wise one. Books are her refuge (sound familiar, anyone?) and she is the researcher who makes sure the sisters have any knowledge they need. She is often unsure of herself. Really, she is her own worst enemy. Her story arc is quieter, but no less important. When the other sisters break down, she is there to pick up the pieces.

Agnes is a force to be reckoned with. It takes her quite a while for her sense of injustice to boil over and turn into action. Once it does, though – yikes! Don’t make her mad. While I enjoyed her character, she is my least favorite of the three.

The concept is a unique one: take the suffragist movement and chuck in some magic. If it was written by any other author, it might have floundered. However, Alix E. Harrow is a fantastic writer. She could write a novel about paper cuts, and I’d be excited to read it.

If you like books with angry characters, vengeance, and more than a touch of magic, this one is for you.

Westside Saints by W.M Akers- ARC Review

Westside Saints - W.M. Akers - Hardcover

Return to a twisted version of Jazz Age New York in this follow up to the critically acclaimed fantasy Westside, as relentless sleuth Gilda Carr’s pursuit of tiny mysteries drags her into a case that will rewrite everything she knows about her past.

Six months ago, the ruined Westside of Manhattan erupted into civil war, and private detective Gilda Carr nearly died to save her city. In 1922, winter has hit hard, and the desolate Lower West is frozen solid. Like the other lost souls who wander these overgrown streets, Gilda is weary, cold, and desperate for hope. She finds a mystery instead.

Hired by a family of eccentric street preachers to recover a lost saint’s finger, Gilda is tempted by their promise of “electric resurrection,” when the Westside’s countless dead will return to life. To a detective this cynical, faith is a weakness, and she is fighting the urge to believe in miracles when her long dead mother, Mary Fall, walks through the parlor door.

Stricken with amnesia, Mary remembers nothing of her daughter or her death, but that doesn’t stop her from being as infuriatingly pushy as Gilda herself. As her mother threatens to drive her insane, Gilda keeps their relationship a secret so that they can work together to investigate what brought Mary back to life. The search will force Gilda to reckon with the nature of death, family, and the uncomfortable fact that her mother was not just a saint, but a human being. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available now.

I read this book without having read the first one in the series. I was able to follow the story-line without any problems, but I’m sure I would have appreciated it more if I’d read the first book.

I put off writing this review for way too long because I wasn’t sure how to put all my thoughts into words. I’m still having that issue, but I think this review is just going to be a weird one. That works, because the book is best described as “weird.” I like a little weird, so that is in no way an insult.

This book was a bit of a downer for me, to be honest. I found myself picturing the entire thing in varying shades of gray (even the things that were specifically described by color). I went into the book expecting light and funny, which wasn’t quite what I got. Gilda, the detective, was an intriguing character. I think I missed some character development in the first book, because she didn’t seem to grow all that much in this one. Her cynicism definitely got on my nerves from time to time.

There was some quippy dialogue which I appreciated. I love a good quip. Or a bad quip. Pretty much any quip. It wasn’t quite enough to pull me out of the oppressive atmosphere of the book, but it did garner an appreciative nod from me.

There were some bits that felt a little choppy to me. It’s a very strong possibility that it was intentionally written that way, and I just didn’t get it. Sometimes an author and the reader just don’t jive. It’s abundantly clear that this author is very talented, I just couldn’t connect.

I think I can chalk this book up to “wrong book for right now, right book for another time.” I’ll probably reread this at some point in the future, when a little bit of a hopeless vibe isn’t going to mess with my happy.

Would I recommend this book? I honestly don’t know.