The word "witch" conjures a plethora of images: trick-or-treating children in pointy hats, a woman with a green face riding a broom, a trio of hags chanting over a cauldron. There are many interpretations of witches, and many many hundreds of books about witches in the world. Typically, this topic is owned by the fantasy genre. At Inglenook, we like to keep our eye on the best magical realism, i.e. books about magic and the everyday. Even if the everyday is many hundreds of years ago.
Here are our favorite fiction books about witchcraft, witches, and witchy magic, which, as you'll probably notice, all happen to have a feminist leaning. (I challenge you to find a witchy novel that isn't about female empowerment.)
Historical fiction at its absolute best, pitting science against magic, and a self-sufficient woman (le shock!) against envious, jumpy townspeople in 17th century Germany. An intelligent, deeply serious commentary on groupthink and female oppression, this novel is also surprisingly funny, with parts that read like a Monty Python sketch. Read our full review of this fantastic novel here.
Three women across five centuries connected by witchyness, i.e. the gift of super connectivity to the natural world. (What's so weird about that?) Set in 2019, 1619, and 1942, this page-turner depicts resilience and the power of intuition over fear and abuse. Poignant and empowering, but not without its trigger warnings, we agree with Kirkus: “thoughtful and at times harrowing, this novel is a successful blend of historical fiction and modern feminism.”
For fans of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, this tighter, more intimate read will take you into the world of magic and academia as a tenure-track professor discovers that her connection to witchcraft goes deeper than ancestry. What we love about this novel is the focus on a mother-daughter relationship, the sense of mystery and discovery, and the warmth of a resolution where love conquers all.
Mythical, witchy, and absolutely captivating. Circe, known in Greek mythology as the evil witch who keeps Odysseus from his return journey home, is recast as the heroine. She's a woman oppressed, neglected, exiled--doomed to isolation. Despite these odds, she cultivates her magic abilities, finds love, and leads an adventurous and meaningful life. Whether you read it or listen to the fantastic audiobook version, you won't want this tale to end.
Haunting, historical, and immersive, The Witching Tide brings a witch hunt in 1600's England to life with grim physicality. When the witchfinder comes to town, midwives become witches, and neighbors become foes. An emotional gut punch about power and powerlessness, hysteria and protection, this is a novel for fans of dystopian and sinister themes à la Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel (Goodreads).
What the Paris Review calls "the best witch novel no one talks about," I, Tituba is the fictional story of a person whom history forgot: a West Indian slave, and the first woman tried for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Some may know Tituba from her cameo role in Arthur Miller's famous play The Crucible. In Maryse Condé's novel, she gets a three-dimensional rendering and a full life, along with magical healing abilities.
Fun and absorbing, The Witches of New York will transport you to late 19th century Manhattan, the time of the suffragist movement and the popularity of Spiritualism (i.e. talking to the dead). Full of engaging characters, the novel focuses on three women who run a tea shop, dispensing more than just tea. Though persecution and danger lurks, these witches--sorry, strong, magical women--find inner strength and salvation in one another.
This novel reads like memoir, until the witches appear. Or magical, odd things happen. A young writer supports herself through grad school, motherhood, and, well, life, with the help of her newfound community of witches and fellow writers at grad school. Inspiring and heavy-handed on the feminism, one of the best moments is when Ariel Gore draws a diagram of a womb in her writer's notebook instead of the overused, phallic plot diagram of rising action. Because why should the shape of our stories be male centric?