The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (Moth from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it's finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and gardien de sorts(keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan's high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions--and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment.
Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor's apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches' tug-of-war over what's best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they're confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?
Image from my Instagram
"What is the weight of a soul? Where does it go when we die? Are there such things as ghosts? Can they speak to the living? What of spirits, demons, fairies and angels? Can dreams hold portents, visions, foretellings? Are witches real? Does magic exist?"
I've never liked it when witches are portrayed as ugly old evil hags. After all the accused were real women who burned at the stake. I believe the reality deserves respect.
When I think of the word witch I think of a strong, intelligent independent woman and that is why I thoroughly enjoyed The Witches of New York. It focuses on strong female relationships; women supporting other women in turbulent times.
I was pretty indifferent towards the book until about the 20% mark when Beatrice spots an ad in her local paper for an assistant in a tea shop. The ad says that "those averse to magic need not apply."
At this stage my interest piqued right along with Beatrice and it was wonderful to see her grow as a character throughout the book. She turns from a meek small town girl into a woman both Adelaide and Eleanor can depend on as a worker and as a friend.
It was also interesting to see how acceptable witchcraft and belief in the occult was at this time. Wealthy women flocked to the shop for reading and herbs to help with various ailments.
"The witch was in reality the profoundest thinker, the most advanced scientist of those ages. The testimony of the ages entirely destroys the assertion sometimes made that witchcraft was merely a species of hysteria."
I really loved this part of the book. I found the spells and potion making really interesting and absolutely loved the snippets from Eleanor's grimoire. I'd read that as a stand alone if it was available!
For the most part, until near the end the novel is driven by memorable characters supported by wonderfully authentic writing. The slower pace for the first 80% did not affect my interest in the slightest as I revelled in the detail of it all.
The only character I would have loved to have seen more of was The reverent, simply because he was so devious and it added great tension to the story. The addition of other characters near the end also has me longing for a sequel to this story!
I can highly recommend The Witches of New York. It's a rich, submersive story that is just perfect for this time of the year.
"What wonderful beings they were, these women he’d come to care for, these women who’d helped him chase his dreams, these women he needed so much more than they needed him—these marvellous, glorious, Witches of New York."
★ ★ ★ ★ ★