Sunday, October 15, 2023

Review: The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

The Gilded Age was a fascinating time in history, on the cusp of so much discovery and invention and a whole new way of life (sometimes positive, sometimes negative). Witches have traditionally been women who have had a power and a knowledge that wasn't supposed to be available to them. Society, when not punishing them to death, often shunned them, except for those furtive moments that they needed these wise women's counsel or skills, herbal and otherwise. Combine the Gilded Age in New York with witches and you have the potential for an amazing novel, which is exactly what Ami McKay's The Witches of New York is.

Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom run an apothecary/tea shop in New York called Tea and Sympathy. They are both witches. Seventeen year old Beatrice Dunn is looking for an escape from her boring life when she sees an advertisement looking for a shopgirl for the aforementioned store with the intriguing caveat that "those averse to magic need not apply." Beatrice is a witch too, although she doesn't know it yet. What she does know is that this job is meant for her so she heads to New York City at the same time that Cleopatra's Needle is making its way down the rail line. Tea and Sympathy is a cozy and appealing place but also quietly subversive, a place where women are on the verge of being able to show their power, to claim suffrage, to wear less restrictive clothing, and to manifest their own autonomy among other things. Because it is this, it is also the target of hatred, especially in the character of a local reverend intent on stamping out his perception of "evil" even as he brings evil with him.

The story is a charming mix of history and magic. It believes in communing with the dead, ghosts and spiritualism, potions and palmistry. In other words, it captures beautifully the spirit and atmosphere of the Gilded Age. Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice are intriguing characters and Perdu the raven, who is something more than a raven is a marvelous touch. The plot is mesmerizing and the tension rises apace, taking this from a quaint, witchy tale to a desperate howl against the patriarchy. It's an engrossing story of the power of friendship and of a modernizing world that has to make room for powerful women in a whole new way. My book club was divided on it but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts