Title: Magic Lessons: A Prequel to Practical Magic (review copy)
Series: Practical Magic #0.1
Author: Alice Hoffman
Genre/Themes: Historical Fiction with Paranormal Elements, Family Saga, Folklore, Feminism, Witches
Blurb from Goodreads
From New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman comes the origin story of her beloved novel and basis for the cult classic film Practical Magic—taking us on a captivating journey to the Salem witch trials, featuring the indomitable matriarch of the Owens family, Maria.
It’s no secret that love has plagued the Owens family for centuries. But when did the curse begin, and why? It all began with Maria Owens, who arrived in America in 1680, with a baby in tow…
Born with pitch-black hair and pale green eyes, Maria was abandoned in the English countryside by her birth mother and raised by Hannah Owens who warned her, “Always love someone who will love you back.” She inherits Hannah’s Grimoire—a magical book of enchantments that include instructions to heal illnesses, ingredients for soaps that restore youth, and spells that make a person burn with love for another. When Hannah dies in an attack, Maria leaves for Curacao, where she meets John Hathorne, a magistrate from Salem living freely for the first time in his life as he falls in love with Maria. But Hathorne soon abandons her, before Maria realises she’s pregnant. When she gives birth to a red-headed baby girl, Faith, who possesses immense magical talent, Maria embarks on a voyage to Salem to face her destiny, with or without magic.
But aboard the ship bringing her to America, fate intervenes and she meets a man who will change her life, if she’ll only let him. Her journey, laced with secrets and truths, devastation and joy, magic and curses, will show her that love is the only answer, always.
I first read Alice Hoffman around this time last year on NetGalley and fell in love with her writing. I read The World That We Knew; highly recommend it! So when the opportunity to read and review another of her books came through NetGalley I leaped at the chance.
I haven’t read any books in her Practical Magic series before. But as this book, Magic Lessons, is a prequel that absolutely does not matter as it can be read and enjoyed completely on its own.
Magic Lessons tells the origin story of the Owen family that feature in Practical Magic. Magic Lessons begins in 1664 and tells how Hannah Owens discovers a baby in the snow that she brings up as her own. The child, a little girl named Maria, has an innate talent for magic and thusly begins her schooling with Hannah who is also talented with natural arts.
The story is laid out in somewhat of a saga format as we see Maria’s childhood with Hannah all the way through to her adulthood and the story then incorporates her daughter Faith.
This is a brilliantly written novel. The attention to detail given to creating an authentic feeling world that these characters inhabit is exceptional. Hoffman has carefully tied in historical events, including both the plague and Salem witch trials, into the narrative of these women’s lives, and also has reimagined the lifestory for an actual person, John Hathorne, which really made this novel come alive. I loved all the notes in the book that listed natural cures for different ailments; it was just another brilliant element that made this book feel like it had its own heartbeat.
The characters were all brilliantly detailed and each felt fully fleshed out and carefully multilayered. It’s an absolute joy to read a book where both the plot and characters are so wonderfully intermingled that’s the whole thing comes together as a deeply immersive reading experience.
Each character felt entirely unique and yet wonderfully connected to each other. I loved Hannah’s fierceness and strength, how she didn’t let the unhappiness she has experienced in life overtake her and still found love to give to Maria as a child.
I loved the sense of loyalty that there was in Maria. I loved how she almost naively followed that sense of loyalty but in a way that made her extremely admirable. I wanted to cry for her as a teenager being taken advantage of by a much older man… beware she’s 15 when she thinks she falls in love with a 37 year old man so it’s ick central…but not to her 15 year old heart. She loves so wholly and so completely that it’s heartbreaking… and then to see that love betrayed and trampled on, to see how it alters the course of her life and how it changes her… just brilliant!
And then there’s Maria’s daughter Faith. Wild, free, seemingly unrestrained by morality… she’s a deliciously dark character. The perfect blend of love and vengeance.
My heart ached for these women. For all the suffering they went through, for all the hatred and prejudice they experienced. If you’ve read the original Practical Magic or indeed have seen the film you will know that there is a curse on the women of the Owen family that extends to the men that fall in love with them; basically bad luck and heartbreak follows. (This is also mentioned in this book’s blurb so let me reiterate that you do not need to have read Practical Magic nor seen the associated film to enjoy and follow the story of Magic Lessons). This book showed how that curse came into being and it was truly heartbreaking…and also not in the least bit forced. I had feared that Hoffman would be almost pigeon holing her characters or forcibly twisting their stories so that it marries with what she has already published… but this book just reads incredibly organically. The events unfurl in a completely natural feeling manner.
At times the book felt a little dry and the story lost its natural pace, but this is a very minor quibble as overall I felt there was a lot of heart in this story. It was exceptionally well written with regards to plot direction and character portrayal, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole reading experience.
This book has made me want to dive deep into Hoffman’s back catalogue of titles and discover more of her writing as after reading two books I’m very much a fan. I am really looking forward to finally reading Practical Magic for myself too.
Highly recommended to fans of magical realism, historical fiction, family sagas, and women focused fiction
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 6th October 2020, Simon and Schuster UK / Scribner UK