The Once and Future Witches – or how to hook a new reader with a heartbreaking/warming short story and then double down
I said I was going to try reviewing only things I liked, and here I'm already breaking my own pledge. This is not about something I liked. This is about something that transcends like. Should I say love? Okay, I'm a stone-faced middle aged white guy, but I'll say it. I loved this book.
But I can't start without a digression (really, a prologue, necessary here, despite the social media tinged dislike for the p word).
I came to Alix Harrow's work via a short story. Mr. Death, in Apex Magazine. https://apex-magazine.com/mr-death/
This thing broke my heart and put it back together. It made me go and hug my kids and chew on my liver because the writing was so good, the concept so perfect, the end so… well, go and read it. It sat at the bottom of my mind, telling me what to do next.
So I did it. I had, of course, seen the hype and read the thousands of tweets about OAFW. It had become one of those BOOKS. You know, the ones that you worry are so hyped, so discussed, that it will be an anti-climax to actually read. That you will be the minority, and not like it. But Mr. Death decided it for me, and I downloaded the audible version to listen to while running.
How can an author build three people like the Eastwood sisters, so different, so complex and linked and full of struggle? Why, simple really. Just build a whole world that is as complex, as full of suffering and beauty and strange connections as the characters themselves. Mix in race tensions, suffrage, poverty and struggle and unexpected kindness and then make sure the whole thing is magical as hell.
I don't do this much, but I found myself checking how much longer the audio had to go every day when I set out for a run. I was torn. I wanted it to have hours upon hours of story left. I wanted to keep running longer and longer so I could hear more of the story, live more in that world. I clocked my weekly distances, and then blew them out of the water.
Of course Alix E. Harrow is getting recognised (was, anyway. Now, is very recognised). I have The Ten Thousand Doors of January queued up. And then A Spindle Splintered. I am training for a trail marathon. These stories should serve nicely.
Alix E. Harrow's website is here https://alixeharrow.wixsite.com/author