The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits…
Ever since I joined Goodreads, I’ve always wanted to read a book by Ami McKay. Her two novels (The Birth House and The Virgin Cure) seemed so exotic and special. Historical, women’s issues… They definitely caught my attention. When I found out that she was releasing a new book about witches, I jumped at the chance to review it. I don’t usually read fantasy, but I thought this would be more “magical realism” (which I really like). Turns out, it was a bit of both.
After finishing the novel, I can say that while I loved Ami McKay’s writing, this was one of those books where I enjoyed the setting and the characters more than the story itself. I thought New York’s characterization was wonderful and we had three interesting main characters here: Adelaide, Eleanor and Beatrice (I’m in love with Adelaide, by the way). Even though I found them captivating, it still took me a while to connect with the story and once again, the blurb spoiled something that only happened in the last section of the book. I really hate when they do that (Don’t worry, I removed it here).
The “action” takes part almost exclusively at the end, so the first part of the book moved rather slowly because of that. At first, I didn’t mind because I was delighted to get to know our lovely witches and their peculiar shop better. However, I believe the story dragged out a bit and I wished it had been a shorter book. I believe I would’ve enjoyed it way more.
The book edition was beautiful and it’s definitely one I’d recommend reading in physical format. It featured handwritten letters, drawings, newspaper stories and other amazing surprises and it was one of the most special books I’ve encountered lately.
What I liked the most
The world Ami McKay created here was compelling and fascinating. The historical part was a pleasure to read and I loved how strong these women were. This is a truly feminist book and makes New York seem so magical and special!
What I didn’t like that much
As I previously mentioned, I would’ve wanted a stronger storyline. I usually don’t mind reading quiet books, but this was a bit different and I really think it had the potential to be even more memorable novel.
The Witches Of New York is a strange and alluring novel that I liked but didn’t manage to love as much as I expected at first.
Orion Books, 2016 – Copy from publishers