Book review: The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

This review is a long time coming, as I finished the book a month ago.

This book is from the January Novel Editions book box.

To be honest, I was a little worried when I read the synopsis for The Witches of New York. It didn’t sound like the sort of thing that I would usually read: society ladies, enchanting new girl, drama between friends, and a mysterious disappearance, all set in the late 1800’s. But, I was committed to giving this a full-fledged try, so I started reading. And, at least it involved a tea shop!

It started quietly and slowly, focusing on introducing us to the main characters (Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice) and an event that would slowly unfold in the background (the arrival of an Egyptian obelisk, Cleopatra’s Needle). Once Beatrice made her way to the tea shop, I started to get really intrigued. From there, the story seemed to get more and more interesting. Spirits made appearances, evil lurked in the background, and the women’s characters (and friendship) started to blossom. Throughout all of this, the author shared little tidbits from books and newspapers to set the mood, share witch lore, and share the progression of the obelisk into town.

There were a couple of things that I particularly loved about the book. The first was that each woman stood on their own: Beatrice was the pretty princess in distress who still managed to think for herself; Adelaide was the scared flirt who could charm and connect with people from all social niches; and, Eleanor was the (mostly) confident wise-woman-in-training. Other characters (mostly women, hooray!) helped to support and develop the main characters. My favourite of these was Madame St Clair, Eleanor’s mother. I would love it if the author wrote a book just about her.

Another thing that I loved was all of the witch’s lore that the author shared throughout the story. Much of this was simply integrated in the story’s events, but she also included pages from Eleanor’s grimoire (her book of spells and knowledge) and little clippings from books and teachings (always interesting and informative). Even the main antagonist’s readings, preaching, and conversations were indicative of witchcraft history and the prejudices they faced.

While the author certainly tried to ensure that a few good men existed in the story, she also didn’t shy away from the reality of life for women in the late 1800’s. Throughout the story, she painted a bleak picture in terms of the rights and the realities woman faced. She included everything from social graces to how easy it was to have a woman committed. And, yet, the three witches held their heads high and quietly, sometimes secretly, continued to exude confidence in their own life choices.

Of course there were lots of other little things to love: the atmosphere that the author created, Perdu (a raven), the mystery behind the obelisk, and so on.

My one big complaint about it was that it was clearly set up for a sequel. The primary plot element was resolved, but there were so many loose ends: What happened to the boy that helped Beatrice get to New York? Who is the man with the obelisk? What really happened to Beatrice’s parents? Will Adelaide’s mother be able to reconnect with Adelaide? Will Perdu’s identity be discovered by Eleanor? What is the creepy, evil man up to? So many questions!

If this doesn’t end up being at least a three part series, then the next book is going to be crammed full of events and answers.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book (much more than expected). While it may not be the next runaway hit or literary treasure, it was a lot of fun. I’ve already picked up one of the author’s other book, The Virgin Cure, which is a precursor (though, perhaps not an official prequel) to this book.

Have you read this book? I’d love to know what you thought about it and who your favourite character was.


Side note:

Witchcraft had also been a source of power for woman. Not “I own you” power, but “I stand on my own” power. This is echoed in The Witches of New York and in another one of my recent reads, The Bear and the Nightingale. In many ways, repressing the practice of witchcraft, regardless of its usefulness (consider midwifery), has always been a way of beating woman down and increasing the power of the patriarchy or Christianity (so … patriarchy!).

If you want to know more about the history of witchcraft and it’s resurgence, I highly recommend reading The Real Reason Women Love Witches. It’s a fascinating article. The author does an excellent job of explaining the witchy things and showing why it continues to be popular. It’s not all about the connection with nature, the plant knowledge, or the desperate hope for a love potion – about reclaiming power and status.

One thought on “Book review: The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

  1. Pingback: Novel Editions – book box subscription | Periwinkle playground

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