A Lullaby for Witches
Fox’s dual-timeline (present/1870s) thriller fits into what is fast becoming a subgenre of American historical fiction: Witches Return, Havoc Descends. Meek, accommodating twenty-something Augusta takes what she thinks is her dream job as curator at an historic house in New England only to be consumed by the spirit of Margaret Harlowe, a 19th-century witch who has all but disappeared from her own family’s history.
Soon Augusta is combing for obscure references and becoming attracted to charming co-worker Leo. She ditches her abusive boyfriend as she gains strength from her ghostly visitations from the wronged Margaret. Co-worker Leo had a physic-dabbling mother who draws Augusta deeper into the restless spirit plaguing her and the house. Meanwhile, Margaret’s first-person story is meted out as the two draw closer to the body-snatching finish.
The danger of dual-timeline stories is that one is more compelling than the other, and there is some of that here—Augusta’s self-esteem and food allergy problems can’t hold a candle to vivacious Margaret’s dabbling in forbidden medicine, sex, and vengeance. Heartfelt and poetically rendered set pieces and atmosphere do not make up for lackluster motivations and characterizations.