The Rules of Magic needs more magic

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOTTOM LINE: I wanted to love this, but alas, I did not.

Genre: Fantasy; Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 10 October 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.”

My Thoughts: I opened The Rules of Magic with high expectations. I had only seen the movie Practical Magic but love it like so many do. The fact that the book is a prequel felt perfect because I could read about the aunts and then read about the sisters and follow it up with another viewing of the movie. Prequels mean no previous knowledge of the characters is necessary. It was meant to be, I thought. Unfortunately, two things were wrong with my plans. First, I had assumed that the characters I love in the movie are the same in the book. Second, I forgot about my mixed reaction to Ms. Hoffman’s novels.

Book-to-movie adaptations are always dangerous. I know this, which is why I tend to shy away from movies adapted from beloved books. However, it was not until after several viewings of Practical Magic before I realized that there was a book version, and it has been on my radar as a book I want to read someday for years. I did not read anything about the book and therefore believed that it was similar to the movie. Movies change things all the time, so one expects differences. I did not think that the changes made in the movie would have any impact on my reading of the prequel. I was wrong.

These are not the aunts as I knew them from the movie. They are not quirky, whimsical, or wise about magic or about life. Granted, the book occurs when the aunts (and father) are young. They have their own dealings with the curse and a lot of growing up to do after all. I kept reading because I assumed and then later hoped that they would evolve into those marvelous characters from the movie. Except they didn’t.

One is bitter and gruff. The other is withdrawn and dreamy. They are scarred, literally and figuratively, and it shows in their characters. I finished reading The Rules of Magic and immediately researched the differences between the book and movie versions of Practical Magic. My research showed me that the biggest complaint about the two versions is the aunts and the tone of the novel. The book version is missing the whimsy. In its place is a much darker, less hopeful tone that is more depressing than charming. The aunts follow the same pattern. In addition, there is less magic, referenced abstractly in the book versus outright in the movie. Based on these reviews, the prequel is the same as the book, and it makes me sad.

My second issue with The Rules of Magic is the fact that I tend to have issues with Ms. Hoffman’s novels. While I adored Faithful and enjoyed The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I could not finish The Marriage of Opposites. Sometimes, you connect with an author’s work and sometimes you don’t. This was another time where I could not connect with her story.

I suspect those who actually read Practical Magic and enjoyed it will find themselves with a drastically different opinion from mine. For me though, I was so taken aback by the negative tone and the bleak characters that I could not enjoy the story. I kept hoping it would shift into something lighter and happier, but even the ending and the introduction of the girls was not a happy moment in the story. I kept reading because I wanted to see the two stories connect and I hoped it would end well. Instead, reading it became a chore. I was particularly bothered by an apparent loophole in the curse, which I find a bit ridiculous and difficult to accept. Occurring near the end of the novel, it did nothing to appease my concerns. I might have started The Rules of Magic excited to finally experience the Owens family in print but finished the novel confused and highly disappointed.

4 Responses to The Rules of Magic needs more magic
  1. Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick
    November 22, 2017 | 9:23 AM

    Practical Magic is a movie that I’ve seen only a handful of times, but I always remember fondly for the very simple reason that I adored Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman in the movie and loved their dynamic together. I haven’t yet read Alice Hoffman’s work, but that whimsical nature of the actresses bringing the characters to life is what I enjoyed, and I have always been uncertain on reading Hoffman, however I feel like I read one of her earlier, one of her first books, and enjoyed it? I will have to research to see if a title reminds me!

    • Michelle
      November 22, 2017 | 12:16 PM

      I have read and enjoyed a few of Hoffman’s other novels. For me, I think I prefer the movie version of Practical Magic versus the women to whom I was introduced in this prequel. They were missing the whimsy, which I agree was one of the best parts of the movie.

  2. Sarah's Book Shelves
    November 22, 2017 | 11:45 AM

    OK – so your thoughts are making me think I could like this. Haha. I don’t love all the magic, so am glad to hear you didn’t think it had enough…maybe that will be the right amount for me.

    And I love dark and sinister. I also haven’t seen the movie or read PM, so have no preconceived notions.

    I’m going to give it a shot at some point.

    • Michelle
      November 22, 2017 | 12:19 PM

      I think the fact that you do not have any preconceived notions makes you an excellent candidate to enjoy this one. I really hope you do!

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