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January 17, 2021

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Icon book review: "Magic Lessons"

Alice Hoffman does indeed spin a charming spell, one that sparkles with literary magic

Review by Robert McCool
Alice Hoffman's latest chronicle of the remarkable Owens women s “Magic Lessons” (ISBN9781982108847). It completes the enchanting trilogy “Practical Magic (1995) and “The Rules of Magic” (2017) began.

Ms. Hoffman explains the reason she writes most succinctly with a quote from her Aunt Jet, a character in  “”The Rules of Magic” - “she opened a book and therefore was saved, discovering that a novel was as great as any spell.”

And indeed, “Magic Lessons” is spellbinding, as it is the beginning of the history of the Owens family witches. It begins in 1864, when the baby Maria is found in an open field with only a crow protecting her until she is found by Hannah Owens, a healer and brewer of various teas and potent potions to help women with health issues.

She even assists those who demand the most powerful, and dangerous glamour- love. It is there where Maria learns her first important lesson- “Always love someone who will love you back.” This lessons in love is lost to her on her though.

Hannah mentors the teen-age girl in the practical “Nameless Art”, until ignorant men  label her as an evil being and execute her. Maria then escapes England and sails to the Caribbean island of Curacao as an indented servant, where she meets the man she believes she falls into love with.

She eventually follows him to the colony of Massachusetts where she learns he is spoken for. Following him in his New World life, she captivates him with sex, but he tires of her and labels her as a witch, showing he is a powerful witch hunter with many women's deaths on his hands.

He prosecutes her, and declares she should hang. Also, a spinster steals her daughter Faith  from her and hides her away for years.

She escapes due to a sailor who fell in love with her during her voyage to the New World and reach what will become New York city. She returns to her magic practice, helping women with their problems, including the most deadly- love.

She reunites with Faith, the reunion is difficult due to her indoctrination by the woman who stole her, who tells her that her mother didn't want her anymore.

When Faith returns to Massachusetts to find and ravage her witch-hunting father, Maria follows, eventually writing a moving letter that ends the persecution of women based on rumor and false accusations.

She receives money from Faith's father with which she builds a grand mansion and a girl's school, both of whom still remain to this day. She also finds love after all that has happened to her.

Of course, there is much more to the Owen's family story here, and with the other books in the trilogy that brings us up to present day 1995.

Alice Hoffman does indeed spin a charming spell, one that sparkles with literary magic.