Wednesday 8 November 2023

#NetGalley #bookreview: The Book of Witches | Jonathan Strahan (ed)

The Book of WitchesThe Book of Witches by Jonathan Strahan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this up for review from NetGalley because I thought it would go well with my October TBR, and what better way to end the month with some witchy stories! Unfortunately, this review is coming in late because I overestimated my personal capacity for reading multiple stories about witches in one sitting and had to pace myself lol.

Two overarching themes stand out in this anthology: the disempowered woman snatching back power for herself and ignoring the wise woman at your own risk. It may even seem a little sexist from a certain lens: there are few men with magical power here, and the antagonist(s) - while sometimes other women or various sections of society - feel mostly of the male persuasion. It's no surprise, really, given the idea of witches and what they usually stand for.

Speaking to that gender point, "What Dreams May Come" by C. L. Clark is a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be transgender. If the Dreamscape is only meant for women, what happens when Pol transitions to be a man? What then happens to his magic - and why does he still have access to the Dreamscape after his transition?

Yet despite the similarity in themes, these are all very different stories (and poems; I will admit upfront that I kinda skimmed the poems). I normally associate witches to a more rural, old-school context, but a surprising number of stories playing around with the question of how magic would interact with tech - "Good Spells" by Ken Liu was an entertaining example. And if you're looking for something in the mystery vein, "The Liar" by Darcie Little Badger would fill that (various members of the "Coven" group chat are going missing and turning up dead - who's the one killing them?)

Apparently, there's a trope in this anthology that I enjoyed more than the others, which I'll call "BUT WHO ARE THE REAL MONSTERS?" This has a predictable answer: Not The Witch. The ones that stood out to me were "The Witch is Not The Monster" by Alaya Dawn Johnson, "The Nine Jars of Nukulu" by Tobi Ogundiran, and "Orphanage of The Last Breath" by Saad Z. Hossain.

To round up this review, I'll just throw in some of the other stories that I really liked:
"Through the Woods, Due West" by Angela Slatter
"The Cost of Doing Business" by Emily Y. Teng
"John Hollowback and The Witch" by Amal El-Mohtar

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from HarperCollins via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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