Title: The Witches of New York
Author: Ami McKay
Format: Digital ARC, 320 pages
Publication Details: October 2016 by Orion Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction; Magic Realism; Supernatural
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.
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. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?
Although not a sequel, this book follows a character from McKay’s acclaimed novel The Virgin Cure, which if I had known before (lack of research on my part) would perhaps have put me off requesting it. Fortunately it didn’t seem to matter. Unfortunately, my first foray into the world of Ami McKay didn’t quite beguile me like I thought it would.
The Witches of New York follows young Beatrice who is seeking employment. When she sees an advert in the paper from a strange-sounding tea shop where ‘those averse to magic need not apply’, she feels like this will be the start of a new life for her, and it is.
Owned by Adelaide, a seer (and Moth from The Virgin Cure) and Eleanor, a witch, the tea shop is a front to a growing magic business. Beatrice soon becomes an invaluable apprentice but her visions begin to haunt her, and she’s weakened and easily exploited.
I liked some parts of this book, but I just don’t think I was in the mood for it. I can imagine enjoying a lazy Sunday reading this, but trying to read it during a busy schedule didn’t work. The pace was painfully slow and although the descriptions were beautiful and elegant, they were subtle and drawn-out. I found myself skim reading a lot.
This novel does have a great magic-realism atmosphere, and McKay is clearly a talented writer, but this book was too light for me. She reminded me a lot of Alice Hoffman, albeit with something missing.
However, I liked the way she presents these real-life witches – as strong, independent women in an era where women had no rights, were discriminated against, and most certainly should not have worked in a shop, never mind owned one. AND I liked that the heart of this book was about women’s relationships in that hard time where it was extremely brave of them to be proud of who they are.
Basically, I enjoyed what McKay was tying to do here, but I needed more to take hold of to keep me interested in the plodding plot.