Set at the cusp of the 20th century, Louisa Morgan’s “The Age of Witches”focuses on the intertwined lives of three New York descendants of Bridget Bishop, one of the most famous victims of the Salem Witch Trials. Harriet Bishop is an aging spinster, who uses her magic to create herbal remedies that offer aid to the disenfranchised women of her community. Meanwhile, her distant cousin and socialite Frances chooses to use her abilities to serve her desire for social advancement. Anise, Frances’s stepdaughter and distant relative of Harriet, is blissfully unaware of her magical heritage. She yearns to be free of the constraints of society and wishes to be allowed the luxury of choosing her own path in life. The three women are forcefully brought together by Frances’ choice to dabble in the darker side of magic. The outcome of that choice will change the course of their lives in ways they could never have imagined.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I was hesitant to pick it up, because I wasn’t a fan of Morgan’s earlier work, “A Secret History of Witches”. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that “The Age of Witches” is a solid story that focuses more on the lives of women in the late 19th century than on the magic itself. Magic serves as a way of giving its practitioners an advantage in a society that tries to keep them contained. It makes sense that Anise is found to be an adept at magic as of the three Bishop women she is the one who most desperately yearns for the things that a woman of her time and class is denied, a career and a purpose in life other than being a wife and mother. Though I am a fan of the fantasy genre, I enjoyed the fact that the magic in this book is more akin to Wicca practices than the magic of the fantasy genre. I felt that this made the story much more believable than it otherwise would have been. A cardinal principle of Wicca is to do no harm and a cardinal rule of magic in this story seems to be that misusing magic always comes with a price. This is a lesson that several characters in the novel have the misfortune of learning. Another clear message seems to be that power is a source of great temptation and that even the most noble practitioner can be tempted time and again.
My one criticism of the book is that I think the ending, in particular Anise’s love story, is a bit drawn out. A quicker resolution was possible, which would have sacrificed nothing in terms of storyline.
Overall, I recommend “The Age of Witches” and give it a 4 out of 5