My guest today is my lovely friend (and structural editor!) Alys West. I’m really missing our regular catch-ups, so I’m gratified to learn she is, too! 🙂 Alys writes the most amazing stories: I read and loved her debut novel Beltane immediately (you can read my review here) and I was delighted when she released its long-awaited sequel, Storm Witch, in April. Both books are part of Alys’s Spellworker Chronicles, and I really do recommend them. Alys also ventured into steampunk romance. Her quirky and fabulous novel, The Dirigible King’s Daughter, is a fast-paced adventure set in an alternative Whitby. A breathtaking and brilliant read. Today, however, she’s chosen to focus on her love for all things witchy; specifically, some of her favourite books about witches. Welcome, Alys.
Five fabulous books about witchcraft
One of the things I’ve really missed during lockdown is meeting up with my friends for a chat over tea and cake. Sharon and I usually get together every couple of months in our favourite café in Beverley to talk books, writing and whatever TV program we’re obsessed with at the time. I’ve really missed our meetings and our chats about books so when Sharon invited me to write a post for her blog I thought I’d share some reading suggestions.
Sharon and I share an interest in the magical. The heroines in her Witches of Castle Clair series are more on the Bewitched scale of witchiness (if that’s a word) whereas I see the witches in my Spellworker Chronicles series as more like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer before (spoiler alert!) she went over to the dark side. However, they’re all definitely on the white side of witchcraft and all of the books I’ve chosen are about witches who use their magic for good.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
I fell head over heels for this book when it came out. It had all the things I love; a determined heroine, a very sexy hero, lots of magic and it’s set in beautiful Oxford. The romance between Diana and Matthew is beautifully done with the stages of their love affair unfurling with delicious slowness. There’s also the mysterious book which briefly appears in the Bodleian Library and the building tension between all of the factions who want to get their hands on it.
Deborah Harkness has created a wonderfully rich alternative world peopled with witches, vampires and demons (creative souls with a tendency towards both genius and madness). My novels use real world settings too and I love the way Harkness takes Oxford, Venice and a chateau in France and finds the magical in them. The TV series has been excellent so far and I’m very much looking forward to the arrival of season 2 later this year.
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
This is the most magical of Mary Stewart’s contemporary novels. It’s a delightful story about Gilly who inherits a cottage from her cousin who had a reputation locally as a white witch. There’s an otherworldly quality to this book that I really loved. It’s the descriptions of the cottage and the surrounding countryside that really stayed with me and the sense that there’s magic inherent in nature. It’s a gentle read and unfolds quite slowly but it’s definitely worth sticking with it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
There had to be some Harry Potter on the list and I’ve gone for the Deathly Hallows as it’s the one where I felt Hermoine really comes into her own as a powerful and intelligent witch. A lot of writing about witchcraft is about the elemental nature of it but that needs to be coupled with an understanding of what it is you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. In the Deathly Hallows I felt Hermoine with her more academic approach is the perfect balance for Harry’s more instinctive talents. There’s also the use of the story of the Three Brothers, a folk tale written by Rowling for this book, which is a genius example of using folklore to give depth to a fictional universe.
The Familiars by Stacey Halls
Based around the Pendle witch trials in 1612, this is historical fiction and rather different to the other books I’ve selected. In The Familiars being perceived as a witch is extremely dangerous. Women were being tried and executed all over the country as part of King James I obsession with stamping out witchcraft. Stacey Halls makes it clear that the evidence against the witches in the Pendle trials was highly suspect and that the whole thing was a sham cooked up to win favour with the King. There were some aspects of this novel that I found problematic as the heroine seemed a little inconsistent and far too modern but it asks some interesting questions about why female power was such a threat and the thinness of the dividing line between magic and medicine in the seventeenth century.
Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts
This was the first Nora Roberts book that I read and I absolutely loved it. The story focuses on Nell, who arrives on Three Sister’s Island after leaving her abusive husband. As Nell settles into her new life and falls in love with Zack, the sexy sheriff, she becomes aware of her growing magical powers. There’s a curse on the island which can only be lifted by the descendants of the three sisters who settled there in the seventeenth century. Nora Roberts has a great gift for creating believable heroines with traumatic backstories who heal during the story and as they fall in love. The New England setting of this book is particularly memorable as well. It’s a perfect easy read for a summer’s afternoon.
If you’ve got any recommendations for books about witches I’d love to hear them. You can leave a comment below or tweet me at @alyswestyork.
If you’re looking for a witchy read then you might like to check out my novels, Beltane and Storm Witch. There’s also Sharon’s fabulous Witches of Castle Clair series which I’ve absolutely loved including the final book in the series, To Catch a Witch which is out now.
Thank you so much for mentioning my novels among your books about witchcraft, Alys, and thanks for a lovely post. I’ve read two-and-a-half of those books, but you’ve made me determined to buy another copy of the half-read one and re-read it from start to finish. The other two also look appealing, so I guess my to-be-read list is going to get even longer!
Alys West writes contemporary fantasy and steampunk. She lives in York but loves to travel especially to Scottish islands. Her stories grow out of places and the tales which people tell about places. Her work draws on her own experience of surviving trauma but always with the possibility of a hopeful ending.
Alys has a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University and teaches creative writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. She’s also a book whisperer (like a book doctor but more holistic) and mentor to aspiring writers.
When she’s not writing you can find her at folk gigs, doing yoga and attempting to crochet. She occasionally blogs at www.alyswest.com, intermittently tweets at @alyswestyork and spends rather too much time on Facebook where you can find her at Alys West Writer. She is also on Instagram at @alyswestwriter. To keep up with Alys’s news you can join her Facebook readers’ group ‘Druids, Spellworkers and Dirigibles’.
Although not a witch herself, magic had always been part of Jenna’s life, guiding and nurturing her childhood. Her mother Nina was a member of The Order of Spellworkers and Druids, enforcing the laws of the magical community. But six winter solstices ago Nina was murdered. Six winter solstices ago the other members of The Order died or disappeared. And six winter solstices ago Jenna banished magic from her life, fleeing back home to Orkney.
Jenna thought she had re-built a calmer world for herself until her ex Hal returns, and someone starts to practice dangerous magic on the islands. When water, sea and sky elements are being manipulated to destroy, maim and kill, how can she deny handsome druid Winston’s plea for help?
As seer Zoe Rose foretells of a catastrophic storm which will engulf Orkney, Jenna and her friends must race against the elements to stop the storm witch. Only through chaos will Jenna find the answers she’s been searching for. Only through chaos can her heart decide who is the right man for her. And only through chaos will she finally discover who killed her mother.