15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, Religious Violence, Heteronormativity, Domestic Abuse, Mentioned Drug Use & Alcohol and Minor sexual content.
I give this book 3 stars (out of five) overall. As this is a collection of short stories I will be talking about each one individually. The summaries will contain spoilers for the stories, and all of my opinions are coming from someone who is relatively uninformed on this topic and many of the cultural things and beliefs included.
- Starsong By: Tehlor Kay Mejia [2 stars out of five]
I personally didn’t like this story mainly because I didn’t like the main character, and I don’t believe in astrology and horoscopes. I’m definitely more of a scientific thinker and the idea that when you’re born predetermines aspects of your personality, decisions or things that’ll happen to you is a bit too much for me, but I’ve also never done lots of research or taken a big interest. I’m not trying to disprove other people’s beliefs, I just don’t believe in them myself.
This story follows Luna’s life as she works to overcome past struggles and runs a business/is an influencer. This leads her to messaging someone, meeting someone new and going to meet her.
However I did like many aspects of this story like the descriptions of the stars and how Luna paints. I also liked the inclusion of Luna’s romance with another girl and the dynamic of science versus faith in a way. And there was also a poly trio included as background characters, which I love to see.
- Afterbirth By: Andrea Cremer [2.5 stars out of five]
I liked this story overall, specifically the aspect of handing down traditions, practices and keeping magic alive. As someone who doesn’t know much about modern witchcraft or history some things in this story might’ve gone way over my head.
This follows Midwife Ley’s apprentice Deliverance Pond, after a particularly difficult birth the baby is a stillborn Midwife Ley is able to save it but the mother dies. She is later convicted of witchcraft and Deliverance Pond takes the child and Ley’s secret magic book and leaves the town in search of a safer place. The testimonies from the hearing are also interspersed throughout the rest of the story.
- The Heart In Her Hands By: Tess Sharpe [5 stars out of five]
I absolutely loved this story, I think it’s my favourite out of this entire book and if I had to recommend one story it would be this. I think it’s very badass and I adore the main character.
This story follows Bettina Clarke (who goes by Bette) she comes from a family of healers but even from a young age she was not taking Fate’s sh*t. When she started developing powers her hands were tied using magic that only her mother could unlock so that she wouldn’t use her power recklessly while she was young. But because of this her father died right in front of her since she couldn’t heal him, this and Bette’s general ability to not care or let anyone control her led her to creating her own powerful spell to break free from the restraints holding her hands.
It worked as Castella’s magic combined with her’s. The main story is that Bette gets her soulmate mark and soon realizes it’s a boy she just met. But because Bette is literally the best, she’s just like, “Nah.” And instead tells him and everyone else that it isn’t gonna happen. Once again she defied Lady Fate by ignoring the boy chosen for her and staying with the girl she was already in love with, Auggie (Augusta Bell).
The Elders try to control her again and with Auggie’s help they both break free, but there are consequences to disobeying Lady Fate. Bette’s once healing hands now kill things, but with the help of Auggie and Castella Bette is free from a curse and is now only different. And the best part is that her soulmate mark is now changed to the first words Bette can remember Auggie saying to her.
I will never not love this story. Can you imagine having a soulmate and just saying No within moments of meeting them? That is some incredible strength and energy, I will always look up to a character who doesn’t let anyone control them, not even Fate. And I especially like it because Fate put Bette with a boy and she not only ignored him, but found her other half in a girl and changed her mark. She quite literally changed Fate and that is super empowering.
- Death in the Sawtooths By: Lindsay Smith [3 stars out of five]
I liked this story but I definitely didn’t fully understand all the things and topics. I really liked the main character, the message and the story overall. My personal favourite part was the opening and description of Mattie’s job.
This story follows Mattie, a patron of Lady Xosia, the Lady of Slumber. Her job is to listen to the dead’s bones and finish all of their unattended business, so their souls get to say everything they wanted to before they’re laid to rest. But there’s this whole conflict because lots of people have in the past and are presently trying to use Mattie’s area of study for bad reasons, like by performing the normal rituals on living people and stealing control of their souls. Mattie and Savannah, someone she used to know, have to work together to stop this from happening again, although it mainly centers around Mattie’s personal journey.
- The Truth about Queenie By: Brandy Colbert [2.5 stars out of five]
I liked the main character in this story and I liked the ending as well as her personal character development, but I really didn’t like how much of the story was based on a romantic storyline and unrequited love.
This story follows Queenie coming from a line of healing witches but most of her family doesn’t practice any magic, she has a crush on her best friend Webb who is a newly professional skateboarder. He now travels a lot and has a girlfriend, the story basically follows Queenie’s struggle with Webb and later trying to discover her powers to save Webb’s girlfriend after a skating accident.
The main reason I didn’t like this story that much is that I would’ve liked to get to know Queenie better as a character and not just in terms of how much she liked Webb, I think he was too defining for her character.
- The MoonApple Menagerie By: Shveta Thakrar [2 stars out of five]
This is definitely the story that I understood the least so I don’t want to judge it misguidedly but I personally didn’t really like the plot.
This story follows the friends Sabrina, Shalini, Gabrielle, Madhu and Bianca. Within their coven they are working to put on a play, Shalini the writer still doesn’t know how it should end a week away from the final show. So she reaches out for help but it comes in the form of a churel, a creature created when a woman dies at the hands of her in-laws and wants revenge on the men in her former family. She offers Shalini an amulet that will let her look into the future to see how she ended the play, but in order to get it the churel must play a role in the play of her choosing. Even though it kind of ruins the play that was a group effort Shalini is desperate so she agrees, her friends are not happy about it but they all eventually come to an agreement.
This story is mainly about Shalini’s insecurity when it came to her writing and her place in the coven, her own insecurity led to issues for everyone even when the others had full faith in her and didn’t think she should’ve made some detrimental deal to figure out an ending for the play.
Personally I didn’t really like this one partially because although I understand Shalini’s insecurity and stress about her writing, in that situation she kind of dragged everyone down with her. I think she was so focused on coming up with the ‘right’ ending that she didn’t spend enough time exploring what she could come up with without the intervention. I think anything she wrote and presented to the others would’ve been fine even if it wasn’t outstanding or brilliant, if the others thought it was okay then they could use it.
I also think that she should’ve turned to her friends if she needed help rather than turning to a stranger to magically get help. It’s okay to ask for help if you need it, but don’t jump to someone you’ve never interacted with before and turn to your friends first.
- The Legend of Stone Mary By: Robin Talley [3 stars out of five]
I really liked this story mainly because of the main character and some of the dynamics, specifically between Wendy and Karen. I also really liked the plot overall and the concept of how events from the past still affect people living in the present.
This story follows Wendy, she is the descendant of Mary Keegan, decades ago during the aftermath of (I think) the civil war everyone in their small town assumed she was a witch and killed her by destroying her house and leaving her to freeze to death. It’s said that she cast a curse on the town and many bad things happened because of it, so they made a statue in her honour. Now nearly everyone has forgotten the story behind the statue and Wendy is just your average outcast. Karen is Wendy’s friend who recently moved there, she was able to become close with her and even have romantic feelings for her but she still doesn’t want to get too close with anyone just in case.
On Halloween Wendy and her friends decide to go visit the statue, often called Stone Mary, and on the way there Wendy starts feeling strange. She is drawn to the statue and hears an odd voice, strongly in her head. Karen is concerned and tries to stop Wendy from getting to the statue, especially around midnight. It’s revealed that Karen and her family are actually witch hunters, they’ve been studying Wendy and her family and it’s dangerous for her to be there. But Wendy is too focused on the pull and she is able to provide forgiveness on behalf of the statue and her family, to hopefully break the curse and bring peace to Mary and the town.
I really liked this because of the relationship between Wendy and Karen, the theme of myths and how information often gets lost to time was also used and explored really well here and I liked the ending as well. The only thing is that I personally don’t think that Wendy or Mary or anyone should be made to forgive people who were horrible to them just because it was hurting them, it’s totally okay if that’s what everyone involved wanted. But it’s bad to force someone who was bullied or treated badly into forgiveness as a way for others to move on.
- The One who Stayed By: Nova Ren Suma [3 stars out of five]
This story really leans into the theme of women being hurt by men, in the specific sense of girls being hurt and then finding this group who try to help them by letting them join the group. Within this group people are referred to as ‘the quietest of us,’ or ‘the tallest of us.’ In the past this group was trying to help another girl but she ran away from them and ended up getting hit by a car when she frantically ran out of the woods, so when another girl discovers their fire they really want her to stay.
Mirah was invited out by a senior named Jayson Turner, she’d never been very close with him before but she was sure they would get closer and soon become a couple. What she wasn’t expecting was for him to bring along two of his friends and hurt her, Mirah was able to find her way to the fire where she was accepted and named ‘the one of us who stayed.’
I liked this story overall, I definitely didn’t 100% understand it but I really liked the descriptions and how it made it clear how united everyone in the group was and I liked their kind of magic.
- Divine are the Stars By: Zoraida Córdova [2.5 stars out of five]
This one was sort of odd, I liked it but it didn’t stand out to me amongst the other stories and didn’t have a clear sense of completion in the ending.
It follows Marimar and Chuy as they return to their childhood home because of a mysterious message sent out by their grandmother with the message; Come collect. I’m dying. When they, along with all of their extended family, finally make it into the house they find Rosa Divina covered in vines growing straight from her body. No one quite knows what to do but it was a test of some sorts to see how people would react, her son Enrique was only there because as next in line he’s the one who would normally be receiving the house and property.
But because he’s an asshole who doesn’t even care about his family it was instead given to Marimar because her and Chuy are able to hear the stars and have some of their magic. Then Enrique got mad and burned the house down as Rosa Divina grew into a magic tree and never burned.
- Daughter of Baba Yaga By: Brenna Yovanoff [3 stars out of five]
I liked this one mainly because of the relatability, the ending and acceptance of all forms of magic even if it isn’t subtle. I think one of the central themes in this story was self acceptance and acknowledging differences in a positive light, as well as having some parts about different races and cultures. I think this story is pretty empowering and I really like the main character.
This story follows Stony (that’s what people call her rather than butchering her actual name but I don’t know it), and the boys specifically but also kind of everyone at her high school are terrible to each other. So she wants to get back at them for it, she becomes friends with Harmony Jessup who’s also a witch and wants to get avenge as well. Harmony used her magic to make a prophetic statement about a guy who was an asshole and Stony was inspired. After seeing some bullying happen she made a list of everyone involved and targeted them.
As she was the daughter of a butcher she filled all of their lockers with vile and unusable parts of animals, but because of her magic and complexity of the situation no one could prove it was her. The ending is the acceptance of how Stony’s magic is not subtle and her punishments were loud and strong because that’s how she is.
- The Well Witch By: Kate Hart [2 stars out of five]
I didn’t like this story very much because although there was a story it didn’t really amount to anything significant and that made it hard to be truly invested in the story and characters. I also wish we saw more of the main character without focusing on her connections to her lost family members or new love interest.
This story is set in Texas in 1875, Elsa lives by herself in a little oasis in the middle of nowhere. Her mother was a waterwitch which is how they originally found the well and decided to live there, but Elsa’s lost both her parents and now is left only with the things they’ve left behind. Like her Father’s strange collection of sourviengers and her mother’s powers that Elsa inherited. One day three men show up at her door in need of shelter and assistance and she offers to let them stay on her grounds while their horses recover. But two of their horses die while they’re staying there in exchange for some general work and tasks being completed around the property.
Overtime Elsa has become close with one of the men named Zeb and he eventually decided to ride away on the last surviving horse and try to make it to the nearest fort to get some help. He promised to come back for Elsa and reassured her that the others wouldn’t hurt her, but not long after he left they kidnapped her and imprisoned her in the bedroom of her own house. After a long time of imprisonment and being forced to watch the men destroy her home she gets away by setting the house on fire and escaping, while making sure the well was drained so they couldn’t put it out. She left them there and went to find Zeb.
Personally I liked the ending because the woman wasn’t sitting there and waiting to be rescued and instead saved herself and then went in search of the man supposed to come to her. But besides that I didn’t like most of the story and I didn’t really understand the character’s motivations at times.
- Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths By: Jessica Spotswood [2.5 stars out of five]
I quite liked the concept of this one but I didn’t like the main character or agree with her decisions so I didn’t like it very much overall.
This story follows the current generation of Campbell witches, the three sisters Jo, Emma and Georgie. They all have unique powers Jo can make prophecies, Georgie is skilled in fire and Emma in potions and similar areas. Jo has a vision in which she is married to one of the local higher class men, she’s old and although she hasn’t seen either of her sisters in decades they’re probably all still alive. And that’s important because in their family in every generation only one sister grows old, because one always goes mad and kills the others. So she saw a potential future where they all survived and decided it was worth it to risk everything to try and make that future the one they lived.
Jo hatched a complex plan with Emma’s help to make Georgie’s fiance get with Jo and then that would morally make it so that he would need to marry Jo instead, so that part of the vision can come true. But the plan goes wrong when Georgie sees them and sets his entire mansion on fire with her magic, nothing really works out the way they planned.
To me it seems very clear that if Jo actually cared about her sisters and wanted to all survive then Jo should’ve told both of them right away and decided what to do together. When Jo made that decision for herself she thought of it as a sacrifice because it wasn’t what she wanted but it would protect the others, but it also hurt them because Georgie had to see her sister with her fiance and Emma had to leave behind her lover. It’s actually a kind of selfish decision because she is the one who made the smallest sacrifice and didn’t really let the other two sisters have any say in what she did and the consequences of her actions.
- Love Spell By: Anne-Marie McLemore [3 stars out of five]
This is a love story between Andrián El Acólite and Cariña, she and her aunt specialize in curing lovesickness and mending broken hearts. Cariña met El Acólite on a whim and they soon got closer and started having feelings for each other. Until the day when he came to their house but not to see her instead to get a cure, to get rid of his love for her because there is a lot of stigma around witches and he is involved in the church so no one would approve of them together.
Cariña makes it for him but at the last moment he used magic in an undeniable way, although he didn’t know he could. They stayed together and were able to be a lot more fearless.
I didn’t mind this story but it didn’t particularly stand out to me but I will say just as a disclaimer for my interpretation that I don’t know much about the religion or culture in this story and many others so I might not be as informed as other readers and might’ve missed how these things contribute to the story in some ways.
- The Gherin Girls By: Emery Lord [4 stars out of five]
This was another of my favourites mainly because I liked all the main characters, their unique powers and their connection with each other.
This story follows the sisters Nova, Rosie and Willa and they all have special abilities. Nova can know exactly what food/drink someone wants even if they don’t know it themselves, Rosie has a gift when it comes to plants and Willa can feel people’s emotions when she touches them. The story mainly centers around Rosie’s past abusive relationship and how it affected her and her relationship with her family too.
I liked this story and it definitely stood out because the main storyline wasn’t tied to some simple love interest or specifically about the character’s abilities. Their powers or emotions didn’t define the characters or their stories which is very important. I also liked the switching perspectives and inclusion of diverse characters.
- Why They Watch Us Burn By: Elizabeth May [4 stars out of five]
I liked this story. It was definitely comparatively better than other stories in here, I quite liked the formatting and the message of the story as well as the main character and her resolve.
The main character in this story is Faye but she is hardly ever referred to by that name, after being convicted at trial for coming forward against the man who hurt her she is sent to a camp in the woods that girls never come back from. There she is trapped along with twelve other girls who are all forced to do manual labour and pray often. There they aren’t allowed to use their old names and the girls become friends and look out for each other, using names based on their defining features.
Their lives are bad there and the conditions are never good but they get worse. Faye or Night is locked in a room often without food for over a week because she talked about wanting to cast a spell. Soon there is a winter storm so bad the priests and other staff can’t get to the girls and they are gifted with a break and an opportunity to use their magic. When the men saw it they locked the girls in their cabin, and the ending is them preparing to fight and leaving behind a message in case there are ever other girls forced into the cabin. To learn the girls’ names and never forget how they fought and didn’t give up. And throughout all of those events since Faye/Night came to the camp she was falling in love with another girl Obsian/Vidya.
This is very sad to read, I really liked the formatting because each section was a different message written by the main character to other future girls or just to herself and I really liked that perspective.