Books about witches are the perfect fit for fall. I dusted off my copies of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series and embarked on a two-month project. Then I read a brand-new book from Megan Giddings with a unique and thought-provoking witchy premise. Combining all five books was magical if you’ll forgive the bad pun.
The Practical Magic series wasn’t written in chronological order. First, Hoffman wrote Practical Magic in 1993. Moviemakers saw its potential and popularity, casting Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the now-beloved Owens sisters. Nearly 25 years later, Hoffman started filling in the details about the rest of the Owens family genealogy with two prequels and a sequel. I decided to read all four books in order of chronology, starting with the earliest Owens ancestor, Maria.
Magic Lessons (book #1) is everything I want in historical fiction with a twist. It’s got a bit of romance, but mostly it’s about women making their way in a world that holds them down. It starts in England, travels to the West Indies, and ultimately to Salem, Massachusetts. In all three locations, Maria Owens and her bloodline of witches fight to have agency and to practice the Nameless Art. We learn precisely why Maria levees her famous curse on the women of her family and the men they love.
The Rules of Magic
The Rules of Magic (book #2) is the back story of the much-beloved aunts from Practical Magic. It starts in the 1960s in Manhattan, with Bridget (called Jet), Franny, and their brother Vincent. Their mother forbids anything connected to magic, but the siblings find witches fascinating. They dabble with the bloodline magic and start feeling its effects, with both excellent and frightening consequences.
Practical Magic (book #3) introduces sisters Sally and Gillian, the next generation. Like many siblings, they disagree about the use of magic. The town thinks women from the Owens family, the aunts, and the sisters, are witches. Jet and Franny take in the orphaned sisters, raising them as strong, independent women. Although Gillian leaves to seek happiness away from Salem, events conspire to bring her home. And Sally and the aunts are drawn into the drama.
The Book of Magic
The Book of Magic (book #4) is a satisfying conclusion to the series. The Owens witches have had enough of this centuries-long curse. Being doomed in love means life is complicated and frustrating since everyone wants to have relationships. Hoffman connects three generations to bring closure and the possibility of a happy future to this unique family.
I enjoyed everything about reading the Practical Magic books as a series. Hoffman develops her characters, giving them plenty of heart without making them cloyingly sweet. She mixes history, like the witch trials, with hedge witchery, garden wisdom, and plenty of magical fantasy. It’s a perfect fall reading project with relatively traditional stories about witches.
The Women Could Fly
On the other hand, Megan Giddings takes witches and makes them relevant to the reality of the USA in 2022. Her new book, The Women Could Fly, is a spectacular feminist speculative fiction novel. I enjoyed Giddings’s debut novel, Lakewood, and reviewed it here. And her storytelling in The Women Could Fly is one masterful notch up the scale.
The plot revolves around a young, biracial woman living in Michigan. But in this version of our world, all women are considered susceptible to becoming witches. The level of government-sponsored suspicion unmarried women face is beyond the pale. And our heroine Josephine already has one strike against her since her mother disappeared when she was just a kid. Even as a child, the government suspected she had witch-like abilities.
So, when Josephine learns from an attorney that her mother left her some papers, she knows there’s a level of risk in investigating them. But her need for answers outweighs any sense of caution. So she sets off to learn whatever she can about the circumstances of her mother’s disappearance.
Josephine is admirable and strong as she evaluates the relative safety of marriage and motherhood with the desire for independence and agency. Giddings gives her character a journey of true discovery while also building a world that seems only two or three steps away from genuine possibility. I would read more about this world anytime Giddings wants to write about it.