Charlie Jane Anders chooses the best science fiction of the month
Luckily for anyone who feels the same way, a slew of witch novels have come out recently – and many of them feel brand new.
Science fiction, fantasy, thriller? Books we love but can’t define.
Certainly, many recent witch novels explore hackneyed themes: witches are suspicious and feared and must hide from the world. But Giddings and other authors also uncover new layers to classic witch tales, exploring the complexity of anti-witch attitudes in a rewarding and timely way.
“The Women Could Fly” is an absolute triumph. It takes place in a world like ours, but where witchcraft laws are still commonly used to control women. Any single woman over the age of 30 is suspected of witchcraft and placed under surveillance and may no longer be able to hold a job. No one seems quite sure that witchcraft is real, and the laws are applied inconsistently, which seems too believable.
Giddings conjures up a world that feels familiar, despite increasingly chilling hints of dystopia. And along the way, she shows what anti-witch crusaders fear most: our ability to create a better world if we work together.
The theme of community is also strong in “The Top Secret Society of Irregular Witches(Berkley), by Sangu Mandanna. At the center of the story is Mika Moon, who was raised under an unshakeable law: witches must live apart from each other. Mika never put down roots, constantly moving around to prevent anyone from discovering her magical powers. But when she is hired to teach three young witches living in an isolated house, she discovers how much better it is to be part of a witch family.
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The story is full of romance and chosen family, with just the right amount of whimsy. Mika is an engaging protagonist, full of snark and fire, but constantly surprised whenever someone actually cares about her. Reading about Mika’s slow healing from the wounds of his loneliness is also a healing experience for the reader.
“The drowned woods”, by Emily Lloyd-Jones (Little, Brown) is a magical adventure about Mer, the last living “water witch”, able to both sense and control water. She has been on the run for years, escaped from forced labor by the ruthless Prince Garanhir. Then, the prince’s former spymaster approaches Mer with a plan to steal the prince’s treasure, along with a team of thieves that includes a corgi who could be a spy for the fairies. Lloyd-Jones uses its Welsh setting and fairytale mythos to good effect. But its finely observed descriptions of water, from sewers to the ocean, are what make “The Drowned Woods” — a young adult book perfectly suited for an older audience — something to savor.
Desideria Mesa’s “Bindle Punk Bruja” (Harper Collins) develops the theme of characters hiding their true identities. Luna is the only member of her Mexican immigrant family who can pass as White. She changes her name to Rose and moves among Kansas City’s elite during the Prohibition era. By day she works as a journalist and by night she runs a speakeasy, but she constantly has to hide who she is.
When mobsters and the Ku Klux Klan target her, she must find a way to access the magical powers she inherited from her grandmother. The story takes a while to get going and the language of Prohibition gangsters seems broad at times, but Luna’s identity crisis and accompanying magical awakening are fascinating and exciting.
We can’t have too many witch books. Witches provide a powerful metaphor for stigmatized people forced to live underground. These four new books show us how powerful it can be when these people come together.
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of “Victories greater than death” and “Dreams bigger than sorrow», the first two books of a trilogy for young adults. His other books include “The city in the middle of the night” and “All the birds in the sky.” She has won the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, Lambda Literary, Crawford and Locus awards.
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