It’s been a long time since I’ve cracked open a book about Salem era witches and enjoyed it. When I first saw this appear on my Book of the Month selection list, I thought that certainly we were past the trend of colonial witchcraft. (Think The Crucible, 1996.) We had a long string of lates 90’s and early 2000’s witchcraft obsession. Off the top of my head: Blue is for Nightmares (2003), Nightworld (2008), Harry Potter (1997). Now, sitting pretty in 2020, I thought Magic Lessons was a little late to the trend…but I was mistaken.
Magic Lessons is the prequel to the other books in the Practical Magic series, with Practical Magic being released in (you guessed it) 2003. The Rules of Magic, the sequel, was published mid 2017. The series can (apparently) be read in no particular order, which I totally did myself.
I was first introduced to Alice Hoffman through her novel, Aquamarine. As a kid, I devoured the book and it’s follow up, Indigo. The folks at Book of the Month are definite fangirls over her; Hoffman is one of the only 3peat authors on the service. Needless to say, all the hype made me curious for the Practical Magic books. When the golden cover of Magic Lessons appeared on my selection pane, I knew the time had finally come.
Set in the late 1600s, witch Hannah Owens discovers an abandoned child alone in the snow with nothing but a blanket stitched with blue thread for protection. Hannah raises the child as her own, named Maria, and realizes that Maria is a very gifted witch herself. Throughout Maria’s life, she is presented with both love and loss, including being abandoned by her father’s child and invoking a curse that haunts her lineage to this day.
Let’s start with the obvious. Magic Lessons is an absolute original. It was impossible to predict what was going to happen next (Not That I Could Tell, I’m looking at you! *shudders*) Though this novel takes place over multiple continents, none of the characters feel out of the place or redundant. Hoffman expertly weaves her characters in and out of Maria’s life, making each unique and important. The settings themselves are rich and brought to life, as if you can peak around and see for yourself. There’s no shortage of description here.
Which brings me to my nitpicking. There’s no shortage of description here. We’re almost bludgeoned with description, which makes an otherwise enjoyable read drag on and on and on and on. I felt like I was reading for hours at a time and only moved through a few chapters. Another Goodreads user said this, “Alice Hoffman could write historical fiction on auto-pilot – and for a while that’s what this novel felt like.” To that, I must say I completely agree.
For those of us ready to escape 2020, Magic Lessons will certainly take you away. (Do you really want to be transported to 1680, though? The ultimate question.) This is a great book to read cozied up in bed or in front of fire place, if you have one. You’ll grow to love Maria and her companions, and Hoffman will have you enchanted until the very end.