Sunday, July 23, 2023

Review: The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

If you've browsed a bookstore recently, you know that there's a bevy of books about witches. Many of them are lighthearted romances or cozy fantasies. The last book of Bianca Marais' that I read was Hum If You Don't Know the Words, not exactly lighthearted or cozy, but a good read. So I was quite curious to see what she might do with the conceit of witches and their magic and how she might weave in her darker, serious themes in The Witches of Moonshyne Manor.

In one week, the six octogenarian witches, Queenie, Ursula, Ivy, Jezebel, Tabitha, and Ruby, who call Moonshyne Manor home will default on their mortgage. Only Queenie, the matriarch of the coven, knows about this looming deadline but they all know that something ominous is going on, alarms are sounding. When an angry mob assembles outside of the house to try and take it early, the women must start to share their long-hidden secrets and lean on the sisterhood of their found family to defend themselves and come up with a plan to save their home as they anticipate Ruby's long awaited return home. They are aided in their efforts by Persephone, a teenager and social media maven who shows up on their doorstep with her dog, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and who is the daughter of the mayor scheming to oust the witches in order to build the Mens World theme park on Moonshyne's land.

The story is both whimsical and addresses serious themes like the patriarchy, feminism, aging, sexism, racism, domestic violence, gender identity, and more. The contrast between the unsubtle, heavy-handed themes and the light-hearted writing was somewhat uncomfortable rather than complimentary though. The timeline moves forward chapter by chapter towards the mortgage default deadline but there are memories, flashbacks, and hints of the past, plus the mystery of what happened the night of a heist gone wrong threaded through each chapter as well. The point of view switches from character to character, even within the chapters, and there's a confusion of characters to try and keep straight, if nothing else, because of the sheer number of named characters. Sprinkled in between some of the chapters are recipes from the grimoire. They can be delightful recipes for life, self-care, potions, and distillery recipes pertinent to the preceding chapter. It was refreshing to see older characters portrayed as spunky and still fully engaged in life if a little slower than in their prime, main characters rather than sidekicks. The novel's pacing was uneven, bogging down in the middle, and the end was crazy and chaotic with some too easy resolutions but overall it was an easy, pleasant read, a funny, light, inclusive story of the power of friendship, acceptance, and strong women.

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