The Age of Witches
by Louisa Morgan
Expected publication date April 7, 2020, from Redhook Books
Bridget Bishop was hanged for her witchcraft in 1692. Two hundred years later, the two lines of her family retain her powers, but use it for different purposes- one uses it to help and heal people, the other uses it to pursue power. That conflict will come to a head over the fate of Annis, the youngest member of the family. Annis’s privileged life in Gilded Age New York is set to change, for her step-mother, Frances is set on gaining a noble title for the family. She takes Annis across the ocean to England, where she hopes to match Annis with a nobleman. When sparks don’t immediately fly, Frances resorts to more drastic measures, though she is countered by another woman of the Bishop line. But neither of them count upon Annis coming into her power, and the modern young woman is determined to be the master of her own destiny.
“Harriet understood and honored the magnitude of her responsibility. Sometimes, as she whispered this cantrip or one of the others, she felt the presence of her predecessors, those wise women who had come before her. Often she felt Grandmother Beryl at her shoulder. Once she had sensed the shade of Bridget Bishop herself, and that one had unnerved her, a ghost still burning with resentment over her fate.”
Though its premise is straightforward- a clash between two lines of a powerful family- The Age of Witches is a book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a story about a young woman who is ahead of her time, who comes into her family’s ancestral power? Is it about a two-hundred-year-old feud between the good and evil sides of a family? Is it a romance? Is it a story of feminist power?
Because it wants to be all of these things, it fails at all of them becoming instead a predictable and surface-level story that is mildly entertaining at best, and stiflingly predictable at worst. Though it is set in New York City’s Gilded Age, the sumptuous environment of high society is largely glossed over or forgotten altogether, turning the story’s backdrop into a non-entity, like a faded photograph in which all the details have been lost.
The characters, too, are flat and defined by a single characteristic: Annis is a horse-crazy young woman whose rallying cry is ‘women should use regular saddles!’, while Frances has a singular goal and seemingly nothing else in her life, and Harriet is obsessed with a single event from her past. And while Harriet may abhor Frances’s methods, she is not above using them for what she might term, ‘the greater good’.
That leads to the moral dilemma of The Age of Witches. With salves, potions, and cantrips, the witches of the world can influence peoples’ minds. While the ‘bad’ witches use this power for nefarious ends, the ‘good’ witches use them for the good. Or so they say. In one instance, one of the witches influences another’s mind to get money. She might say it’s meant to help another, but she used her power to affect another’s mind.
And there’s the rub. If the ‘good’ witches use their power to help others, how can they claim to be helping when they’re affecting others’ minds for their own benefit? Did the influenced person have money to spare? Yes. But did that make it right for the witch to influence their mind? To reach into the seat of that person’s soul to make them change their plans, all for the sake of the witch’s convenience and comfort? I wonder.
And this, really, is the greatest question that The Age of Witches brings up, though it’s likely not the one the author intended to ask. Though Louisa Morgan spends an entire book playing up one witch as inherently good and the other as inherently bad, their ultimate actions are not that different. So when all the witches, good or bad, are willing to use their magic to influence other people’s minds, what really separates them?
It’s an important question for a book like this to ask, and unfortunately, it’s not one that The Age of Witches addresses. Instead, it tells a surface-level story about three scions of a magical family who could change the world, but whose greatest ambition is to do well in the standard wedding plot.
Thank you to NetGalley and Redhook Books for providing me a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.