Fantasy

The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches

By:

Alix E. Harrow

Blurb:

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.

Review:

The Once and Future Witches was on all the lists last year. It was nominated for a Goodreads choice award and probably other ones too. The author’s website is pretty lacking, so I’m not sure about that. Her previous book got nominated for everything, though. A lot of the time, when I read books like this, I’m disappointed. I like lighter fare, something not grounded in realism. That isn’t always the case, of course, and I’m happy to say it wasn’t with The Once and Future Witches.

The story follows three sisters. They grew up with an abusive father and are all struggling with what was done to them in their own ways. Set in the late 1800s, they live in a world that treats women as property. They don’t have the vote and have been stripped of any magical power they had through years of witch trials. The only things they have are the stories and words their grandmother taught them.

The magic in this world was fascinating. I enjoyed how fairy tales were included and the power they gave. The spells were all interesting and feel so accessible. What if I can say these words and clean my house? Ugh, if only. Honestly, it made me want to believe.

Anyway! There was a diverse cast of characters, strong women that weren’t cookie cutters, and just enough magic to make the realism less draining. The ending was good, but not too happy, which is what you expect from these types of books. I liked it. I’m going to look into Harrow’s previous book now.

4/5

The Awakening

The Awakening (The Dragon Heart Legacy #1)

By: Nora Roberts

Blurb:

In the realm of Talamh, a teenage warrior named Keegan emerges from a lake holding a sword—representing both power and the terrifying responsibility to protect the Fey. In another realm known as Philadelphia, a young woman has just discovered she possesses a treasure of her own…

When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.

This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny…

Review:

As soon as I started reading The Awakening, I struggled to put it down. I wasn’t able to focus on anything once I started. I was surprised by that because I expected this story to be like Robert’s The One Chronicles. It was very light on romance, like that series, but The Awakening was nowhere near as dark. It was almost like reading a wish-fulfillment book. The main character was miserable in her life, though she had a found family that she loved completely. She finds out that her mother has been hiding a fortune from her and can then live the life she’s always wanted. She goes to Ireland, something I’ve always wanted to do. She starts writing a book and ends up being very good at it, something I’ve tried to do with varying levels of success. She then finds out that there’s a multiverse, and she’s got powers, something I think everyone has wanted at some point in their lives.

Even with how much I loved The Awakening, I did have a couple of complaints. Well, not complaints exactly, but things I wasn’t all on board with. The biggest one being the relationship between the main character and what will inevitably be her love interest. He was a bully while training her and gruff and rude while not, but I was supposed to believe that she was attracted to him. Their “relationship” would have seemed to come out of nowhere if I wasn’t used to these types of books. It was seriously lacking in any kind of attraction or build up.

I also wish it hadn’t ended on a cliffhanger. That’s only a complaint because it was so good I want to read the next book NOW. The next book doesn’t come out till November, so I’ve got a wait ahead. Considering how long I had to wait for this book from the library, I might pre-order the sequel.

Besides all the wish-fulfillment going on with The Awakening, I loved the world that was created. It’s not one I necessarily think I could live in, I love technology too much for that, but it sounded beautiful. More than a few times, I set aside the book and searched for cottages in Ireland. The descriptions were gorgeous. I also loved that all these fairy tale creatures were able to live together in harmony. The world sounded like a utopia, except for the whole fact that a demon god was trying to destroy it and everything else.

The Awakening was an excellent read, and even though it wasn’t like Nora Robert’s books of old, it was one I’m incredibly excited to keep reading. It’s the middle of January, and I’ve already read one of my favorite books of the year. It’s crazy.

5/5

Witchmark

Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle #1)

By: C.L. Polk

Blurb:

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Review:

It took me a couple of weeks to get into Witchmark. Not because there’s anything wrong with the book; I just wasn’t in a reading mood. Once I did, though I was all in, telling my kids to leave mommy alone so she can read.

Miles Singer was born with the ability to heal. The only power valued in his country is the ability to control storms. Since he doesn’t have that power and is part of one of the country’s wealthiest families, his choice is to forever bond with a storm mage so that they can basically use him as a battery. For obvious reasons, he’s not a fan of that, however if the general public find out that he’s a witch he’ll be locked away in an asylum. So he runs away as a young man.

We meet him years later after he’s served in a war and become a shadow of himself. His desire to heal is constantly warring with his desire not to be found and brought back to his family. Things change, and I’m reminded why life as a kind person who cares about others above all is filled with constant disappointment.

Anyway, Miles is pulled into a mystery that has implications across his entire country. He’s also dealing with the mystery of what’s happening to the men coming back from war. It’s a tangled web that I wasn’t able to figure out until the end. Bits and pieces were obvious, and I still don’t trust his sister, but the big reveal wasn’t what I thought it would be.

Witchmark was a great story, and I’m so glad that The Midnight Bargain wasn’t a fluke. I really like C.L. Polk, and I’m excited to read the next books in the Kingston Cycle.

4.5/5

The Midnight Bargain

The Midnight Bargain

By: C.J. Polk

Blurb:

Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

Review:

I’ve never read anything by Polk before, but I’m going to start. I don’t remember what list I got this book off of or what made me pick it up. I’m so glad I did, though.

The Midnight Bargain has a magic system that involves summoning spirits and carrying them within the sorcerer or sorceress. You have to maintain control over them because they can be like children. The way you progress up their hierarchy involves calling more powerful spirits until you pass a final test. Because spirits are residing within you, women are barred from carrying one during their fertile years because the spirit would take over the unborn child.

Beatrice is a strong sorceress, but her only value is to make an alliance with another family through marriage because of her social station. Her father married up the social ladder and has a complex because of it. Unknown to him, Beatrice has sought magical knowledge using hidden means meant for oppressed women to find. She plans to take the final test so that she can be an asset to him that way. It means that she can never be married, and she’s okay with that decision until she meets Ianthe.

The allegory to birth control in the real world was obvious. Women had to wear collars that suppressed their magic as soon as they were married, and their husbands had complete control over those collars. The ending was exactly what plays out in the real world. It’s frustrating but realistic, and I’m glad Polk went that way. I was on edge through the last half of the book, wondering if Beatrice would find a way to have her cake and eat it too. It was very well done.

Beatrice and Ianthe were great characters. It was easy to see why she would fall in love with him, but he wasn’t so perfect that it was eye-roll worthy. He had a hard time grasping what her issues were, but he tried, which set him apart from others.

I was less of a fan of the two’s sisters. Harriet acted younger than her fifteen years, and Ysbeta was selfish. They weren’t truly horrible, so I didn’t hate them, but they both needed a good slap.

The more I think about this book, the more I love it. It’s not listed as the first in a series, and I’m okay with that. It has a very satisfying ending and, while the world was interesting, I don’t need to read more. However, I will look into the rest of Polk’s catalog, and I hope I enjoy her other books as much as I did this one.

5/5

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

By: Garth Nix

Blurb:

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.

Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.

Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

Review:

Finally, a book I loved. It’s been so long I was starting to think something was wrong. I’m a Garth Nix fan, but I don’t always love his books. Sabriel was one of the first female-led fantasy books I read, and I still go back and re-read it.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London starts with a great tagline on the cover, “Authorized to kill, and sell books.”

Set in 1983, Susan is in London, the summer before university starts, to search for her father. It ends up being a lot more complicated than she previously thought.

At the beginning of her search, she meets a member of a family of booksellers. He also happens to battle mythic and legendary creatures. His world is complicated and scary, but Susan handles it very well. She was calm and cool, with the occasional what the hell is happening moments. It’s a fine line to balance, but Nix did a great job.

There are very few lulls in the story, with something almost always happening. It managed not to be exhausting, though. There was a nice little romance between two of the characters and an entertaining family dynamic that helped with the pace. I thought it was cool that Merlin was gender fluid or non-binary. It was never explained; it was just who he was. It was the first time I’ve read a character like him.

The book didn’t get as dark as Sabriel does, but there is still a satisfying climactic conclusion. It’s written like a standalone book, but I would love to see more. The world of the booksellers was fascinating, and I liked all of the characters.

4.5/5