Magic Lessons (Practical Magic, #0.1) by Alice Hoffman
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
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A healer, living alone in the woods, discovers a baby girl left in a basket in a snowy meadow near her home. The infant is guarded by a large black raven, letting the woman know this is no average baby. She is the beginning of the Owens women clan and this is Magic Lessons, Alice Hoffman’s prequel to Practical Magic.
Hannah, the healer, takes the girl home, names her Maria and raises her on her own. It’s England in the 1600s and Hannah lives a precarious life—sought out for her knowledge of herbs, healing medicine and recipes for finding love, but also turned against by men and accused of witchcraft. It is a dangerous time to be a woman living alone. She teaches Maria about the natural world and its ability to heal and also, as she senses the girl’s gift, about the Nameless Art. There are two kinds, but she only practices one, adhering to the rule that
What you will give will be returned to you threefold.
Maria learns quickly as she grows into a beautiful young woman. Hannah teaches her to be careful of her heart, but as the young will do, Maria doesn’t listen and falls for an older man, who, unbeknownst to her is married. When he abandons her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here, the past links to the present with the ancestors of the American Owens family we come to love in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.
Magic Lessons is a global family saga. Hoffman weaves a lush tale using the history of magic as the multi-hued cloth wrapped around Maria’s story. Her journeys take her to the Caribbean and then the new world. She encounters pirates, Puritans, judges, and indentured servants. She loses what she loves most, but never gives up hope.
The early portion of Magic Lessons encompasses Maria’s life before she reaches America. It is largely the development of her character, normally something I would savor. But my reading mind is not normal these days and so I felt it dragged. Not enough to keep me from continuing, but something I noticed. There is so much detail of the times, including lists of natural remedies, and what we now know to be commonsense reminders, like, wash your hands before and after being around a sick person. Apparently, something not practiced by most doctors in the 1600s. I love being immersed in a fictional world to this degree, but now I wanted to get on with Maria’s life. A small caveat depending on your headspace.
Pacing aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Magic Lessons. I came to appreciate the historical aspects of faraway places underpinning the surface drama of a young woman, a teenager, navigating the world alone. Once again, Hoffman spins a witchy tale about the world of magic and the equally powerful world of human emotions.
If you haven’t read any of the books in the Owens family series I’d recommend starting with Magic Lessons and moving through them chronologically. Despite having been written from the middle (Practical Magic) to the end (The Rules of Magic) and then the beginning (Magic Lessons) I enjoyed the last book in the series the most. BUT, they do stand alone as well, so if one time period seems more interesting you can read that book on is own.
Interested in additional historical fiction about witches? I’d highly recommend The Witchfinder’s Sister.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.*