The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future WitchesThe Once and Future Witches
by Alix E. Harrow
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780356512471
Publication Date: October 15, 2001
Pages: 517
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Orbit

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 three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten 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 must 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.


I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January and bought this off the back of that love, looking to re-capture the magical writing and story telling.

It both did and it didn’t.  The writing is just as magical, and I have not a doubt that many others will find the story just as captivating, but unfortunately I didn’t.  Not because it wasn’t good – it was.  It’s theme just didn’t ring my bell.  I had decided to DNF it after 200 pages or so, but instead I decided to skim-read the rest, knowing I’d be disappointed and always wondering if I didn’t.

I dislike stories that pit women against men, that reduce history down to all women are down-trodden and abused and all men are evil, and this story does almost exactly that.  One woman in this book was against suffrage, except she wasn’t, and exactly two male characters were anything more than drunken, abusive and evil.

If I could subtract that dynamic from the story, while keeping the story itself, somehow (impossible, really), I’d have found the story magical.  I couldn’t help but like Bella, Agnes and James Juniper, and the sense of place was astonishingly vivid.  The magical workings and the ties to fairy tales and nursery rhymes works beautifully.  Ultimately, there are not a lot of fellow readers I’d not recommend this book to.  Except me.  And that’s ok; while I’m certain it won’t be a book I’ll ever pick up again, I’m not sorry that I persevered rather than DNF’ing it.


I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Spellbound square.  It’s a perfect fit for the square: books containing witches, warlocks, sorcerers and witchcraft.

3 thoughts on “The Once and Future Witches”

    1. Definitely check it out at the library if you’re in the mood, but yeah, the dynamics are very black and white, even for the time period. Gorgeous writing though. Have you read The Ten Thousand Doors of January? THAT was a great book.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: