The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman: Breathtaking and bewitching finale - book review -
No one can choose magic, it chooses you… ‘it bloomed inside your blood and bones. And a curse, once spoken, could not be denied.’
Across three centuries, the women of a family of witches in Salem, Massachusetts, have been stalked by a deadly curse that has blighted both their lives and their loves, robbing them of their menfolk and casting a dark shadow over the fate of every generation of females.
But as the ageing Jet Owens prepares for her last days on this earth, she is determined to do everything she can to change her family’s destructive destiny.
Alice Hoffman, master storyteller and literary practitioner of the dark arts, returns with the stunning and devastatingly beautiful conclusion to her much-loved Practical Magic series which has also included the extraordinary novels, Rules of Magic and Magic Lessons, and reinforced her reputation as one of the most accomplished contemporary writers of magical realism.
In these stories, woven through with fierce and inspirational Owens women, the dark history of witchcraft and persecution, cruel betrayal, revenge and bittersweet redemption, Hoffman has swept her readers away on a series of enthralling and far-reaching adventures.
And in this bold, breathtaking and bewitching finale, we see the family curse turn full circle as the generations still standing after years of affliction travel from Paris to London to the green fields of the English countryside where their ancestor Maria Owens first practised the Nameless Art.
The Owens family has been cursed in matters of love for over three hundred years. Their ill fortune dates back to 1680 when Maria Owens, the first woman in the family to set foot in Massachusetts, miraculously escaped being hanged as a witch… but not before she called out a curse upon love.
She believed that future generations of Owens women must avoid love for their own safety as they are bloodline witches genetically predisposed to magic, in possession of ‘sacred gifts’ and unable to escape their heritage.
But the curse laid upon them by Maria has been a heavy and intolerable burden down the years because ‘curses are like knots, the more you struggle to be free, the tighter they become.’
When beloved aunt Jet Owens, now in her eighties, hears the sound of the deathwatch beetle, she knows it is her own death knell, signalling that ‘the past was over and the future no longer existed,’ and that she has only seven days left to live.
And with the time left to her, Jet is determined not to let fate ‘make the best of her’ but instead, to find a way to break the curse and the fate that has overshadowed her family for three centuries.
But the curse is already at work. Unaware of the family’s witchcraft lineage and shielded from the truth by Sally, her fiercely protective mother, young Kylie Owens has fallen in love with Gideon Barnes.
As the curse strikes once again, Gideon’s fate hangs in the balance, spurring three generations of Owens to venture back to where it all began and use their gifts to break the spell that has marked all their lives.
But doing so threatens to destroy everything that the family has fought so hard to protect. How much will they give up for the greatest gift of all?
There’s a rich kind of magic in everything that Boston-based Hoffman puts her pen to and this truly outstanding and fantastical series is no exception… using her vast store of imaginative power, she has transported us to some of the darker corners of spells, superstition and witchcraft.
But alongside her incisive exploration of a period of history when fears of the Devil stalked everyday life and a woman’s knowledge and healing gifts were viewed with suspicion and enmity, Hoffman has also treated us to a moving celebration of the insoluble bonds of family love and generational sisterhood.
Through the stories of the Owens family, we have witnessed how women through the ages have had very little power to change their destinies but also how the secret, shadowy feminine arts could provide the glue that held them together.
Written with Hoffman’s exceptional fluency and word power, these beautifully created novels have featured light and darkness, humour and humanity, trials, tribulations and tragedies, and this spellbinding finale wraps up perfectly each strand of a stellar dynastic confection that has unfolded with such love, literary sorcery and exquisite attention to detail.
A last chapter not to be missed!
(Scribner, hardback, £16.99)