Review: Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Synopsis: Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.

A HUGE thank you to Simon & Schuster CA for sending me this as an ARC! I am a huge fan of Alice Hoffman, and I was beyond excited when I saw this book up on their ARC list. Just a note, I haven’t read Practical Magic, or Rules of Magic, but this is kind of the prologue to the prologue, so it has no previous required readings. I’ll try to limit my spoilers, but beware that there may be one or two!

Hoffman’s books are always some of my favorites. The World We Knew and The Dovekeepers are both spectacular, and I’m so happy to say that Magic Lessons really doesn’t disappoint. First of all, the book really immerses you in the world of magic. Sprinkled into the story are tiny excerpts of the witches’ grimoires, with tips for what herbs to use to bring about or cast away love, to heal a cough or to hex someone. It makes magic seem so common place in the world of the Owens, but also something that should be treated with respect.

Another aspect of the novel that I love is that you can really notice the interweaving of magic and knowledge in this book, which I think is itself an interested commentary on witchcraft. A lot of the research that I’m currently doing for my thesis revolves around knowledge and knowledge holders. It’s really interesting to think about the book in these terms, because if you strip the magic of it’s more fantastical aspects (ie/ floating on water, having a familiar, seeing the future), a lot of these magical cures could just come from an extensive knowledge of botany or the human body. But seeing as women were expected to not have this knowledge, it inherently makes them more dangerous and suspicious. I think this really connects back to how expectations are placed upon certain people for what they can and cannot know, and if they break out of that mold (just like Maria learning to read and Faith learning to speak Latin and Greek) then they are seen as dangerous. The same goes for Indigenous forms of knowledge, which we saw when Maria was in Curacao and learning from Adrie. Knowledge that falls outside of the Western understanding is dangerous, and so it must be guarded against. If you think about it, the witch trials weren’t just about magic, they were also about women breaking out of the desired Puritan mold, and I think it’s interesting to think about what happened to the women who weren’t witches but who also suffered in the book for their knowledge.

The characters were also incredible in the book. Even those who were more minor, such as Finney or Catherine, got an interesting backstory, and really helped to bring the world to life. Their actions always made sense to me, and while I didn’t like all of them *cough*Faith*cough* I understood where they were coming from. I’ll be honest, I fell in love with Samuel Dias the moment he was introduced, and whenever he wasn’t around or involved in the story I was anxiously waiting (or hoping) for him to return. The relationship between him and Maria is really achingly beautiful, and honestly has set the bar really high for people trying to court me now. Unless you show up with a species of tree not known to the people here, then I’m not interested.

Overall I adored this book. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I thought it was really clever, and I am so satisfied with it. Practical Magic (and Rules of Magic) were already on my to read, but now they are on my to-buy-before-the-year-ends list. Magic Lessons is for sale everywhere now, and if you read it please let me know what you think!

Thank you so much for tuning in ducks, and I’ll see you next week with another review!
~ Mon

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