13th Apr 2022
Isn’t it amazing how people can read the same book and yet have such contrasting reactions and opinions about it? I just read a review of this book which damned it with faint praise and yet also offered very legitimate and well written reasons as to why that particular reader didn’t connect with the story or characters. Well, my experience could not have been more different. I adored this book – the story, the use of real history, the wonderful rich and complex characters – so much so, I slowed down my reading because I didn’t want this tale to end.
So, what’s it about? Set in the late 1800s, and in a world that mirrors our own but isn’t quite the same (for example, there’s magic), the action occurs when the suffragette movement was finding its legs and voice in the USA. It’s about three estranged sisters, Juniper, Agnes and Beatrice who, almost against their will, find themselves together in New Salem where the women’s movement is struggling to be heard. Forced to hide and even deny their magic, women and witches have endured oppression, bigotry and violence for centuries and this appears to be gaining momentum. As the blurb says, there are patriarchal forces out there who will not suffer a witch/women to vote – or live. But those forces didn’t account for the combined power of the three sisters nor the magic they unwittingly unleash and must now seek to harness if they don’t want the dark powers stalking and haunting them to silence them and thus all women/witches once and for all.
Exquisitely written, rich and dark, this tale about some women’s fight for recognition, for basic human rights and the lengths they’re forced to go to in order to secure these, the sacrifices they’re prepared (and not) to make, echoes loudly even in these times. It is a tale fraught with peril, dangerous beauty and wonderful friendships. It’s about love, loss and the troublesome nature of families and the bonds that both unite and divide, and how our pasts have an unfortunate habit of coming back to plague us. Imaginative, wondrous and so relatable in the here and now, this is a marvellous book that will linger long after the last heart-wrenching page.
Tags: abuse, Alix E. Harrow, bigotry, feminism, magic, oppression, patriarchy, resilience, right to vote, suffragettes, The Once and Future Witches, witches, women's voices
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10th May 2018
Where do I begin with this heart-achingly, lovely book that moves between utter despair and glorious hope? Once I started, I couldn’t put it down – the prose and sto
ry captivating me in a way I haven’t been for a long time. Not only that, but I found myself shedding tears I didn’t even know were gathering. Some were from sadness, but others were from the joy descriptions of simple things arouse – like a beautiful flower opening its petals, a painter’s palette summer sky, the cry of a native bird, the sunlight refracting on a river. It was unexpected, quite astonishing and testimony to the power of Ringland’s writing and the magic this tale weaves around your soul.
So, what’s the book about? It tells the story of young Alice Hart who, at nine years of age, suffers a shocking tragedy that forces her to leave her childhood home and the oft dark memories and wonderful stories that reside there, and relocate with her grandmother, someone whom she’s never met before. Like Alice, her grandmother, June, carries dark secrets, secrets borne from a deep maternal urge to protect those she loves and which is reflected in the flower farm she runs and, even more significantly, in the broken women she takes under wing and who work for her. Known as The Flowers, they too have secrets and histories that both bond them and, in an attempt to shed the past or at least reconcile it, cause emotional pain. Among these women with their love of stories and each other and the gorgeous flowers, Alice finds a modicum of peace, many more stories to nourish her soul and even love – that is, until something occurs which catapults her into a future she neither imagined or wanted.
From fields of sugar cane and the deep rolling ocean, to the flower farm by the river, and ultimately, central Australia replete with its chthonic magic and ancient stories, the book spans over twenty years. It explores different kinds of love, our connection to place, how stories shape us, how secrets do as well. It also examines the choices we make – good and bad – and the consequences of these upon both the individual making them and those they inevitably affect. It’s about residence and forgiveness as well.
This is such a soulful, gorgeous book that it’s hard to put into words how it made me feel. All I can say is that my signed copy (gifted by my publisher – and signed to me personally by Holly – thank you, Holly) is something I will treasure. I have also bought the book for others so they too might share in this enchanting novel.
There’s no doubt that Ringland is a voice to watch – poetic, powerful and moving – one that has the ability to take the reader on a journey that doesn’t end when the novel finishes. If that’s not an accomplished storyteller with a great gift, I don’t know what is. Cannot wait to see what Ringland produces next.
Tags: Aboriginal myth and legend, abuse, Australia, betrayal, choices, farms, fire, flood, love, NT, ocean, power, QLD, resilience, stories, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland, violence
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