Book Review: THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES by Alix E. Harrow

Title in red on pale green with roses and blueberries in the corners
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: Standalone
CW: child abuse


Book cover for THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES: title in black on a banner surrounded by leaves and roses

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 Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and 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 will need to 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.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


I was rather nervous going into this book as I loved the premise but I hadn’t liked Alix E. Harrow’s debut, but I absolutely adored this book.

The book is told from the perspectives of the three sisters, but the writing feels a little more distant, like someone watching them and relaying it, and just choosing to focus on the sisters one by one. The prose type is an interesting one too – third person, present tense – that is a bit of a marmite one for people, but I liked it here. It works really well for the feel of the book, making it feel like a world that was almost ours but not quite.

I cannot work out if this is based on anything historical – if there were suffragette riots in a New Salem in 1893/4 or not. Google is not being particularly helpful as I’m not sure which New Salem this is supposed to be (my guess is somewhere in Illinois given that Chicago is referenced as someone people travel to and from?) I am hoping it was inspired by history, as I am currently searching for Alternative Universe historical fantasies where real events are retold with magic.

If it is real events inspiring it, then the integration of witchcraft and history is so well done. It’s so engaging, the stakes rising and the plot steadily getting more and more urgent. It made it hard to put the book down, because I could utterly believe that something awful was going to happen to the sisters – something permeant like death. I wanted to keep going in hope that it wouldn’t happen – but the expectation that it would. It’s rare that I feel like this, as fiction rarely permanently hurts or kills the leads, so I find it hard to expect this (which can often undermine the tension in a story). However, I did feel like that might happen here.

There is a staggering amount of plot crammed into this book. I kept thinking that an event I knew that was coming up would be part of the finale, but then it was about the one third mark, or the fifty-percent. Somehow, Alix E. Harrow managed to fit a series’ worth of plot into one book, without it feeling rushed or over-stuffed.

It was a brilliant read, and one I will be re-reading at some point!

Read my reviews of other books by Alix E. Harrow:


Fractured Fables:

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