The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Witchy feminist historical fantasy, anyone?
Why yes, that sounds great!
And indeed, the writing itself is beautiful and immersive, and engaging, especially at the point where the women's suffrage movement meets a nascent coven. I loved how the earlier dark Salem history dovetailed at dozens of points with the New Salem history, how dire so many of these stories were. After all, the real witch hunts were WITCH HUNTS.
And let's face it, that's what we've got to work with here among a larger backdrop of family, found family, and forged-in-blood witchy family. I got into the characters and loved the 1890's New Salem backdrop, the desire to be heard butting heads with the politics and squabbles between all the different groups that OUGHT to have gotten along.
(Side note, the black movement USED to work tightly with the women's suffrage moment until the women betrayed the blacks, saying that their cause would be stronger without them, and this was noted, briefly, but not explored. Indeed, there is also ANOTHER history that was majorly glossed over... and that is the fact that MEN were always a huge part of the Women's Suffrage Movement, too. And this is where I began to have a problem with this novel.)
I enjoyed this entire novel from start to the witchy three on several huge levels.
Unfortunately, I've been unfortunate enough to have had read approximately three dozen novels in the last four years that explicitly demonize all men.
So what, you ask? Well, I'm a man. If I'm reading novels like this that may very well accurately portray extremely bad behavior of men, it does not follow that ALL men are a part of this heavy-handed propaganda piece. If I was to buy into the pervasive message in this, or MANY other books currently being written in this vein, then I'd have to assume that all men are evil and must die horrible deaths. No, not all women are angels here, but they are, after all, always and ever the victims of men, over and over and over again. Let's call it what it is. This is a 3rd stage feminist piece. The few men who seem to be decent are either neutered, foolish, or gay. The only deep characterizations are women.
As a man reading this, I have to read it through a rather uncomfortable lens. If this was the only time -- or even the eighth time, I could blow it off as a bit of cultural steam release and just shrug and pretend to be a woman while knowing this really harms men in general -- especially men who WANT happiness, peace, and equality.
But then I remember Alix E. Harrow's other wonderful book and it DID seem to have well-rounded characters all over the place. When I compare it to THIS book, I get the impression that this hardcore feminist slant is a publisher request. After all, SO many books are being published with this political push. So I don't blame the writer. Her novel is quite gorgeous. The storytelling, the myths and histories, and the children's rhymes work so well toward the full, magical end.
But for me, as a man, it was positively PAINFUL to read if I wanted to take anything personal out of it. That is... unless I wanted to go for total self-negation -- or even suicide. I hated every man in here. And this doesn't seem to be an isolated experience.
So it really begs the question, doesn't it?
Are we really to the point where there are no good men characters in recent literature anymore?
But yeah, other than that, I thought this was a pretty fantastic and beautiful novel.
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