I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan Published by Redhook on April 7 2020 Genres: Adult, Fantasy, historical Pages: 448 Format: Finished hardcover Source: Publisher Buy on Amazon Goodreads
The nitty-gritty: History, witchcraft and romance collide in Louisa Morgan’s beautifully written story about a secret family lineage.
I’m a big fan of Louisa Morgan’s “witch” books, and it’s a given that I’ll read every one she writes. The Age of Witches is another winner, with a wonderfully immersive story and solid writing. I fell into this book as easily as diving under a cozy blanket, and I absolutely loved being back in one of her stories. This book was a bit on the slow side compared to The Witch’s Kind, but it really didn’t bother me that much, because I was riveted by the lives of these characters and all their emotional drama. The Age of Witches felt almost like a fairy tale, with it’s theme of good versus evil, a wicked stepmother, two innocents caught up in a battle between two powerful witches, and a satisfying, happily-ever-after romance.
The story begins in 1890 and alternates between New York and England. Annis is a headstrong seventeen-year-old who loves horses and has no interest at all in getting married. Her dream is to breed her beloved stallion Black Satin and develop a strong line of horses, but her parents are obviously against this idea, mostly because that is not at all what proper girls do. Despite her protests, her stepmother Frances is determined to arrange a beneficial marriage between Annis and a titled bachelor, and Annis’ father threatens to sell Black Satin if she doesn’t comply with Frances’ wishes.
When Annis and Frances arrive in England to be introduced to the Marquess of Rosefield, Annis is immediately smitten by the Marquess’ stable full of Andalusian horses, but her meeting with James, the Marquess, is anything but smooth. James is put off by Annis’ frank talk of breeding horses, and Annis is unimpressed with James’ stuffy attitude about women.
Unbeknownst to James and Annis, however, is the fact that Frances is a practicing witch, and she plans on using a type of witchcraft known as the maleficia to compel the two to fall in love. Luckily, Annis’s great aunt Harriet Bishop, who is also a witch, has gotten wind of Frances’ plan and has followed them to England in order to save Annis from her fate.
The Age of Witches has a lighter tone than Morgan’s last book, which isn’t a complaint but merely an observation. I have to admit I’m often drawn to darker themes, but this was a nice change of pace. Although there are some very dark elements in this story, Morgan didn’t go nearly as dark as she did in The Witch’s Kind, which I guess says a lot about me as a reader! I found the strongest elements in this story to be the relationships between the women, which doesn’t surprise me because that is one of Louisa Morgan’s specialties. This is also a much more linear story than some of her other books, so readers who don’t like time jumps should definitely consider this.
Morgan dips back into the past to give us some history about the Bishop family and how siblings Mary and Christian split the family line into two types of witchcraft. Mary’s descendants practiced herb lore and healing, focusing on the positive aspects of the craft, while Christian’s family started using a form of witchcraft called the maleficia in order to manipulate people into doing their bidding. Harriet is saddened by the fact that her cousin Frances continues to use the maleficia, especially when her beloved grand-niece gets caught up in Frances’ evil schemes. Even though this wasn’t a multi-generational story per se, I did love that the author showed us how these branches of witchcraft evolved over the years. She also touches on how witches have been feared and persecuted through time, and even Harriet, an herbalist who uses her powers for good, is lonely because everyone is scared of her.
As much as I loved the witchcraft in the story, the characters and their relationships steal the show. I loved Annis and her fiery passion for horses and her complete lack of interest in getting married. Her relationship with James was actually pretty funny at times. Even though it’s obvious they’re perfect for each other—they both love horses and want to breed them—James just can’t get past the fact that Annis is interested in something so unseemly. And she rides “cross saddle” instead of side saddle, which is a sure sign that a woman is wanton, lol. Their relationship is resolved a bit too neatly at the end, but it didn’t bother me because I actually liked James and I wanted things to work out.
Frances is the perfect evil stepmother who wants nothing more than to improve her lowly status by having her daughter marry a wealthy man with a title, and she does some horrific things to Annis and James. But I was surprised to find myself feeling sorry for her later in the story. Annis turns out to be much more compassionate than I expected her to be, even though Frances was rarely kind to her.
But my favorite thing about this book was the relationship between Harriet and Annis. Morgan excels in writing mother/daughter-niece/aunt-grandmother/granddaughter relationships, those relationships where an older woman mentors a younger girl. I loved the scenes where Harriet is teaching Annis about her own abilities as a witch and how this shared secret helped form an unbreakable bond between them.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I can’t say that the plot surprised me much—I figured out everything that was going to happen, more or less—but there was something comforting about the story that made me very happy. If you haven’t read Louisa Morgan’s books, and you love historical stories with strong female characters and a touch of witchcraft, you really are missing out.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.