Sunday, January 24, 2021

Review: Magic Lessons - A Prequel to Practical Magic

Title: Magic Lessons - A Prequel to Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman

Publisher: 7th October 2020 by Simon & Schuster (Australia)

Pages: 400 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction,  magical realism, fantasy, witches

My Rating: 4 cups


From New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman comes the origin story of her beloved novel and basis for the cult classic film Practical Magic—taking us on a captivating journey to the Salem witch trials, featuring the indomitable matriarch of the Owens family, Maria.

It’s no secret that love has plagued the Owens family for centuries. But when did the curse begin, and why? It all began with Maria Owens, who arrived in America in 1680, with a baby in tow…

Born with pitch-black hair and pale green eyes, Maria was abandoned in the English countryside by her birth mother and raised by Hannah Owens who warned her, “Always love someone who will love you back.” She inherits Hannah’s Grimoire—a magical book of enchantments that include instructions to heal illnesses, ingredients for soaps that restore youth, and spells that make a person burn with love for another. When Hannah dies in an attack, Maria leaves for Curacao, where she meets John Hathorne, a magistrate from Salem living freely for the first time in his life as he falls in love with Maria. But Hathorne soon abandons her, before Maria realizes she’s pregnant. When she gives birth to a red-headed baby girl, Faith, who possesses immense magical talent, Maria embarks on a voyage to Salem to face her destiny, with or without magic.

But aboard the ship bringing her to America, fate intervenes and she meets a man who will change her life, if she’ll only let him. Her journey, laced with secrets and truths, devastation and joy, magic and curses, will show her that love is the only answer, always.

My Thoughts

‘For some, witchery was a choice, but not for them. It was in their very nature, and they must do their best with it, but how did a woman survive when she would surely be judged again and again?’

I am a fan of Alice Hoffman over the years, but you are never sure what you are going to get. Magic Lessons is a prequel to the Practical Magic series with Maria Owens, the original witch in the Owens bloodline. It would be fair to say that Alice’s writing is in itself magical in this 17th century historical fiction story. She certainly has a gift. 

‘It was a time of evil, when people were owned and women were treated no better than they had been across the sea.’

This book tells the story of Maria Owens (and later on her daughter Faith) from her start in England, then onto Curaçao, Salem and finally New York. I will admit to being a bit nervous in the beginning as it was somewhat slow to get going. It begins with Maria abandoned as a baby and raised by a witch. It then progresses to her being a servant in Dutch Curaçao and finally to Salem and New York. 

‘A woman alone who could read and write was suspect. Words were magic. Books were not to be trusted. What men could not understand, they wished to burn.’

As ever, Alice Hoffman’s writing is the real attraction - it is beautiful. Her capacity to portray not only a sense of place and time but also authentic and real people and stories. This book required finesse given it covers historical events such as the plague, life in a Dutch colony and the Salem witch trials. Her attention to detail is exceptional and I love how she gave voice to a period when women had no power. Then to bring in all things magic - everything from listed ingredients for curing ailments to evoking black magic and spells. Tying it all together is a tale of love and loss, betrayal and revenge. It is dark at times and sad,  yet you cannot help but get swept along with Maria and Faith on their journey.

If you have not read (or seen the movie) fear not, for this can certainly be read as a standalone. The attraction of an Alice Hoffman book always brings an element of surprise - what will be on offer this time? Magic Lessons is a beautifully written tale that I would recommend. 

‘Fate is what you make of it. You can make the best of it, or you can let it make the best of you.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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