It has been a little over a month since I finished The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, and the one impression that remains with me is the fact that the entire novel screams feminist revenge. Everything about the novel, from the reimagined fairy tales to the sisters’ plight to the history of witches addresses the fact that men have been repressing women in some fashion for almost the entirety of history. It matters not that this is a fantasy where magic is a real thing. Ms. Harrow draws on every ounce of outrage women have been expressing for four years now to tell her tale.
This tale of Bella, Juniper, and Agnes is more than anti-misogyny. It is very much a story of the power of sisterhood and of togetherness as well as how the collective outweighs the individual. The sisters’ story emphasizes that the ability to make even the simplest of changes can make the most profound of differences.
The most impressive aspect of The Once and Future Witches is the fact that most of the men we meet in the story are not overtly evil. In fact, they are very much like the men in our own lives, if the men in our lives had been taught since birth to believe that women are weak and powerless. If anything, this makes the women’s plight in this universe that much worse because you want to hate the men for their contempt and abuses of power but cannot because humankind has always bullied those they perceive as weak.
This is Ms. Harrow’s second novel, and she continues to impress me with her writing style. Her characters are amazing, as is her storytelling ability. More importantly, she is not afraid to put her characters in extremely tough, sometimes fatal, positions. There is no such thing as a simple and easy “happily ever after” in her novels, particularly in The Once and Future Witches.
In fact, Ms. Harrow places all three sisters into truly gruesome situations, to the point where one could almost issue a trigger warning for violence and gore. Yet, you can tell that she does not add violence for the sake of shock and awe but rather because the story demands it. Any violence the girls experience makes sense to their story, something I thoroughly appreciate.
The Once and Future Witches is one hell of a feminist story in which three sisters take on the patriarchy and ongoing misogyny. The fact that their fight involves magic as well as a battle against a supernatural evil entity is almost secondary to the story of women fighting together. The Once and Future Witches is certainly a story for 2020 and the Trump era.