Book Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is a captivating novel that breathes new life into the witchcraft genre. Set in the late 19th century, it follows the story of three estranged sisters who discover they have magical powers and band together to fight against the rampant misogyny of their time. As a fan of historical fiction and fantasy, I was eagerly awaiting this book’s release and it did not disappoint.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

TitleThe Once and Future Witches
AuthorAlix E. Harrow
GenreFantasy, Fiction
Publication DateOctober 13, 2020
Length528 pages

Where to Purchase

A Captivating Backdrop

The setting is 1893 in Alternate America, where women still don’t have the right to vote and are treated as second-class citizens. The author does a great job bringing this time period to life, vividly describing the city of New Salem with its gas lamps, horse-drawn carriages, and restrictive social mores. The backdrop of the suffrage movement and the fight for women’s equality allows Harrow to explore resonant themes of sisterhood, empowerment, and challenging the status quo.

A Sisterhood Reunited

At the heart of the story are the three Eastwood sisters: practical James Juniper, fiery Beatrice Belladonna, and shy Agnes Amaranth. Each sister possesses unique magical abilities, but they have been separated for years, believing themselves to be alone in the world. When Juniper travels to New Salem and discovers her sisters, their reunion sets in motion events that will change the city forever. The complicated dynamics between the sisters feels authentic, ranging from tension and mistrust to shared understanding and support. Throughout the book, their relationship deepens as they learn to accept and empower one another.

An Engrossing Plot

Magic, mayhem, and suspense abound in this fast-paced story. The maelstrom begins when Beatrice and Agnes join Juniper in forming the all-female Great Sisterhood, a coven that gathers in secret to hone their powers. Thrilling scenes show the sisters coming into their own as they master scrying, cursing, and spellcasting. At the same time, men who wish to suppress magic and maintain control start mysteriously disappearing across the city. The sisters must evade suspicion while deciding how far they are willing to go to fight back against misogyny. The story builds to an action-packed climax as dark secrets are revealed and the Great Sisterhood taps into ancient powers too strong to fathom.

Thoughtful Commentary on Gender and Society

While entertaining on its surface, at its core The Once and Future Witches has a serious message about female empowerment and marginalization. It highlights real historical struggles women faced at the turn of the century, from domestic violence to lack of bodily autonomy. By imbuing its female characters with fearsome magical abilities, the book suggests that women can reclaim their power to challenge injustice. Through the perspectives of its three main protagonists, it also explores how socialization shapes us differently based on gender. Despite its fantastical elements, the issues the book examines still resonate deeply with the ongoing fight for gender equality today.

Final Verdict: A Magical Journey Through Past and Present

I found myself completely engrossed in this thrilling saga from start to finish. Harrow is a gifted writer who brings her setting vividly to life and fills her pages with magic and wonder. Above all, she peopled her book with unforgettable characters – the loyal Juniper, passionate Beatrice, shy Agnes, and many more uniquely powerful women. The Once and Future Witches succeeds as an entertaining page-turner, but also plants its feet firmly in deeper issues of feminism, discrimination, and speaking truth to corrupt power structures. Both fans of magic and insightful historical fiction will find themselves under its spell. I can’t wait to see what Alix E. Harrow conjures up next!


  • Paula Davis

    Paula Davis is a dedicated and seasoned content writer for Dreaming and Reading, where she brings her extensive knowledge and passion for literature to a wide audience of fellow book enthusiasts. With the heart of a true bookworm, Paula has immersed herself in the literary world, devouring approximately 50 books annually for the last 15 years. This impressive reading habit has not only provided her with immense joy but has also significantly honed her expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in the realm of book reviews. Her insightful and well-crafted reviews reflect her deep understanding and appreciation of various genres, offering valuable guidance to readers in search of their next great read. With a finger always on the pulse of the latest literary releases, Paula Davis is a trusted voice and a go-to source for book recommendations and reviews.

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