The Age of Witches

Written by Louisa Morgan
Review by Misty Urban

In 1692 Massachusetts, Bridget Byshop is hanged as a witch and leaves two daughters who pass very different magical traditions to their descendants in New York City in 1890. Harriet Bishop, a well-off spinster bereaved by her fiancé’s death in the Civil War, uses potions and charms passed down by her grandmother Beryl to ease ailments and help women in distress. Her distant cousin Frances, however, has used the maleficia—a practice of incantations and poppets—to marry rich businessman George Allington and lift herself from a life of poverty. Frances hopes to launch herself into New York’s elite by marrying George’s daughter, Annis, into the English nobility. Young Annis would rather pursue a career in horse breeding than preen on London’s marriage market, and when Frances’s dark spells bend Annis and a young marquis, James, to her will, Harriet crosses the sea to intervene. The resulting battle will awaken Annis to her abilities, test the limits of Frances’s power, and force Harriet to a measure that will haunt her thereafter.

The story is enchanting, and Morgan shapes her characters into fully realized people with compelling hopes, poignant histories, and sometimes desperate ambitions. In this book, magic is a world belonging solely to women, a power women use to redress historic inequalities. While both Harriet and Frances have used it to master their men, Annis must decide how she wants to use her emerging skills. The plot is well-structured, progressing from a measured beginning to heart-pounding scenes of danger and risk, but the resolution is inflected with the cusp-of-a-new-century sense of progress and optimism that surfaces throughout as a theme. Morgan’s incantatory prose and independent-minded women will delight fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen with this tale of female self-realization and magical realism. A highly enjoyable read.