Don’t let your preconceptions keep you from reading this one if it sounds like something you might be interested in. I thought, because I saw the movie adaptation of Practical Magic one time a couple years back, that I knew how Maria Owens’s story would end, because her story is the entire reason that first book exists. That’s how prequels work! The curse she put on her own family as she was killed for being a witch in Salem: that anyone who loved an Owens woman would have their life ruined. Well, strike this for the second successful prequel I’ve read this year (Concrete Rose was the first). I liked it a lot.
This was actually my first Alice Hoffman book. I’ve had Practical Magic on my TBR for several years now, but Book of the Month picked this in October and did up a new very pretty edition of Practical Magic so I bought both of them. I decided to read this one first as a sort of experiment. Prequels interest me. I feel like you are a good author who understands how stories work if you can make a prequel work. (I’ve heard mixed things about the other prequel in this series, Rules of Magic.) But regardless of the rest of the series, this book works.
Our heroine is Maria Owens, who was left in a field by her mother the day she was born, and found by a woman named Hannah Owens who takes her in and raises her as her own. From that English field to Curaçao, to Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, to Manhattan and Brooklyn, this book paints a wonderful atmospheric portrait of 17th century, mostly centered around women, and more specifically “witches”, or as they’re called here, practicers of the “Nameless Art”. We follow Maria over roughly thirty years of her life, as she learns Hannah’s arts, and experiences the world around her, which is dangerous particularly for women.
I’m not going to say anything about the plot, because it did manage to surprise me, and one of my favorite things about this book is that feeling of discovery. That I had little expectations aside from what that one scene in the movie gave me was a large part of my enjoyment. The pleasure of just going along for the ride was definitely here for me. Hoffman likes the pleasure of telling a good story.
Not sure when I’ll get to Practical Magic, but she’s also got another and supposedly the final book in this series coming out later this fall, so I guess we’ll see!