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.