What is it about witches that we find so compelling? We all know the stereotypes: an evil crone with a cackling laugh and warts on an ugly honker of a nose, generally using her magic to scare – if not out-and-out harm little kids.
Or, she’s the stunning femme fatale, the seductive sorceress wielding magical potions to bring men to their knees so that she might usurp their power for herself. Neither of those stereotypes are particularly positive, and yet the allure of the witch endures.
Perhaps it’s the more positive stereotypes that aren’t always mentioned, but still often present – the sisterhood of covens, the importance of family traditions, the inner strength that can come from honoring ones’ ancestral heritage. And, increasingly in today’s world, the wisdom learned from working with nature and respecting the power of the earth.
Maybe it’s as simple as the witch being the OG feminist icon, a powerful woman (hence the negative stereotypes) who defines herself on her own terms in a world doing its best to strip her of her power. Whatever the reason, I’m drawn to witches in popular culture and I know I’m not alone. So here are five of my favorite witchy books.
THE WITCHING HOUR
by Anne Rice
This is one of my favorite books ever, and certainly my favorite by Anne Rice. Granted, there are no incantations or potions, and these witches derive most of their power from a ghost, but there are psychic powers like telepathy and telekinesis. Mostly, though, I love the mystery and history of it all – it’s just as much a story of New Orleans as it is family saga of the Mayfair witches.
Demonstrating once again her gift for spellbinding storytelling, Anne Rice makes real for us a great dynasty of four centuries of witches–a family given to poetry and incest, murder and philosophy, a family that over the ages is itself haunted by a powerful, dangerous, and seductive being called Lasher who haunts the Mayfair women..
Moving in time from today’s New Orleans and San Francisco to long-ago Amsterdam and the France of Louis XIV, from the coffee plantations of Port-au-Prince to Civil War New Orleans and back to today, Anne Rice has spun a mesmerizing tale that challenges everything we believe in.
“A huge and sprawling tale of horror.” THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
SEASON OF THE WITCH
by Natasha Mostert
I love this book about two beautiful, wealthy sisters living alone in their Victorian familial home, probably for all those reasons – I don’t have a sister myself, and I’m forever fascinated by the different portrayals of sisterhood. Plus, there’s alchemy and remote viewing, a realistic portrayal of computer hacking and corporate espionage, and a pretty cool take on memory palaces.
Season of the Witch tells the story of Gabriel Blackstone: hacker, information thief, and skilled “remote viewer.” Asked by a former lover to investigate the disappearance of her stepson, Gabriel’s suspicions fall on Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk, two beautiful sisters who live in a rambling Victorian house in London.
Independently wealthy, the sisters spend their time dabbling in alchemy and the ancient Art of Memory—invented by the Greeks and used by alchemists and magi such as Giordano Bruno and Leonardo Da Vinci. The sisters are white, or “solar,” witches, who aim to use alchemy not to turn lead into gold but to attain ultimate knowledge and therefore ultimate power. Gabriel soon becomes convinced that his client’s son had been murdered and that one of the women is the killer. But which one?
As Gabriel infiltrates the world of the sisters, he finds himself drawn inexorably deeper— becoming entranced even as he realizes that he is in mortal danger. When he is caught snooping, Gabriel must race to unlock their secrets before they can retaliate. To save himself— and the one he loves, presuming she is not guilty—Gabriel will have to fight one of the sisters within the landscape of her own mind.
UNHOLY GHOSTS (THE DOWNSIDE GHOSTS SERIES)
by Stacia Kane
The world of this urban fantasy series is just so cool. It’s gritty and dark and dystopian, with a lead character who is a tattooed, ghost-hunting witch with strong magic powers… and equally strong addiction issues, complete with accompanying low self-esteem and self-loathing. All of which makes her vulnerable and sad and real, even though the world she inhabits is not. Plus, she lives in a former church with stained glass windows, and how cool is that?
THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.
The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead.
But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK
by John Updike
This book about small-town witches is often hailed as a feminist classic, and just as often criticized for being misogynistic. Personally, I’m probably too biased to say either way – I read this book as a girl right after seeing the movie, so book and film are inextricably linked in my mind. And Cher reminds me of my grandmother, who was beautiful and “witchy” in her own way with her homemade concoctions for glowing skin and non-frizzy hair, so I can’t help but to see my grandmother in this. Plus, I am a sucker for prose porn, and John Updike gives good prose.
Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, bewitching divorcées with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious. Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream.
Their happy little coven takes on new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play. Thenceforth scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick—and through the even darker fantasies of the town’s collective psyche.
by Zoraida Cordova
This is a YA urban fantasy book about a Latina bruja. From Brooklyn. Who happens to be bisexual. I mean… all the casual diversity in this book was just amazing to read! I even overlooked the love triangle because of it – and that’s a trope I tend to hate in YA. Probably because it didn’t take over the story, and also because there were so many things I loved in this book: sisters and family and ancestors, botanicas and magic, all the culture and mythology and an adventure through the Underworld that was just awesome. This was only the first book in this series, but I can’t wait for more.
Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…