When one thinks of witches, spells, and potions, they may peg these stories as simply mythical lore, but there is actually quite a bit of history wrapped up in witchcraft. From the frightening witch hunts of the 1600s to the healing powers of medicine women and supernatural tales overseas, there is an entire historical genre dedicated to ancient witches. As the crisp autumn air swirls through my window and the spooky vibes of the season set in, I love to curl up with a riveting novel about witchcraft. Here is a list of a few notable historical tales, based on powerful women who carried a little spark of magic.
This literary debut, perfect for fans of Margret Atwood, is inspired by the seventeenth-century witch hunts in England that claimed the lives of innocent women. Set in 1645, our main character, Martha, lives out her peaceful life as a midwife and healer in the sleepy coastal village of Cleftwater. Since childhood, Martha has been mute. Her idyllic life is put in jeopardy when witchfinder Silas Makepeace appears in town. Day by day, her neighbors are captured and wrongly accused. Martha can only watch in silent horror, until she is forcibly selected to help examine the alleged witches. Between the immersive atmosphere, the shockingly true events from history, and Martha’s riveting search for the truth, THE WITCHING TIDE is a historical fiction tale unlike any I have ever read.
“Stylish and raw…seizes the reader’s sympathy and does not let go.” —Anne Enright, Booker Prize–winning author of The Gathering
For readers of Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel, an immersive literary debut inspired by historical events—a deadly witch hunt in 17th-century England—that claimed many innocent lives.
East Anglia, 1645. Martha Hallybread, a midwife, healer, and servant, has lived peacefully for more than four decades in her beloved seaside village of Cleftwater. Having lost her voice as a child, Martha has not spoken a word in years.
One autumn morning, a sinister newcomer appears in town. The witchfinder, Silas Makepeace, has been blazing a trail of destruction along the coast, and now has Cleftwater in his sights. His arrival strikes fear into the heart of the community. Within a day, local women are being captured and detained, and Martha finds herself a silent witness to the hunt.
Powerless to protest, Martha is enlisted to search the accused women for “devil’s marks.” She is caught between suspicion and betrayal; between shielding herself or condemning the women of the village. In desperation, she revives a wax witching doll that belonged to her mother, in the hope that it will bring protection. But the doll’s true powers are unknowable, Martha harbors a terrible secret, and the gallows are looming…
Set over the course of just a few weeks that will forever change history, The Witching Tide delivers powerful and psychologically astute insights about the exigencies of friendship and the nature of loyalty, and heralds the arrival of a striking new voice in fiction.
Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic series holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. MAGIC LESSONS is the prequel to it all. Maria Owens, born in 1600s rural England and abandoned by her family, is taught the “Nameless Arts” by her adopted caretaker. As Maria grows, she not only learns the craft of witchery but also how to love. When the man Maria falls in love with ultimately leaves her, her love turns into a passionate obsession. She follows him to Salem, Massachusetts, where a family curse is bestowed upon her and every generation to come. This beguiling and spellbinding tale is perfect for autumn and packed with strong women, healing powers, and the greatest magic of all: love.
In this “ bewitching” (The New York Times Book Review) novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.
Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Nameless Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.
When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.
Magic Lessons is a “heartbreaking and heart-healing” (BookPage) celebration of life and love and a showcase of Alice Hoffman’s masterful storytelling.
SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD is a tale of mystery and murder set in 1699 South Carolina. After inexplicable tragedies befall Fount Royal, the citizens believe their local widow Rachel Howarth should be tried for witchcraft and sentenced to death. But the young clerk Matthew, tasked in aiding the trail, believes Rachel’s innocence. Taking matters into his own hands, Matthew launches and investigation for the truth. This immersive novel, packed with history, is a long one at nearly 800 pages, but readers are sure to be swept up in the intricate mystery that McCammon weaves. You won’t be able to put this one down.
From New York Times bestselling horror novelist Robert McCammon comes a dark and chilling tale about a witch-hunt in the seventeenth century Carolina colonies.
The Carolinas, 1699: The citizens of Fount Royal believe a witch has cursed their town with inexplicable tragedies—and they demand that beautiful widow Rachel Howarth be tried and executed for witchcraft. Presiding over the trial is traveling magistrate Issac Woodward, aided by his astute young clerk, Matthew Corbett. Believing in Rachel's innocence, Matthew will soon confront the true evil at work in Fount Royal....
After hearing damning testimony, magistrate Woodward sentences the accused witch to death by burning. Desperate to exonerate the woman he has come to love, Matthew begins his own investigation among the townspeople. Piecing together the truth, he has no choice but to vanquish a force more malevolent than witchcraft in order to save his beloved Rachel—and free Fount Royal from the menace claiming innocent lives.
This new debut by Emilia Hart spans three time periods—2019, 1619, and 1942—as it explores three women and their connection to the natural world. The three characters are separated by centuries but are linked by similar misfortunes that result from misogynistic men. Present-day Kate flees to Weyward Cottage to escape her abusive husband; Altha of the seventeenth century is subjected to the accusations of the witch trials; and Violet, trapped in the turmoil of World War II, is disowned by her father after her mother’s death. All she has is a locket with the letter “W” and the word “weyward” scratched into the baseboard of her room. Each of these women has the determination to survive against all odds, making WEYWARD another captivating historical tale about fierce witchery.
We are taken to the lavish yet gothic setting of 1890s Paris in THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS. In this first book of a witchy historical series, Sandrine Salome flees New York to her grandmother’s Parisian mansion to escape an abusive husband. But when she arrives, Sandrine finds that the house is empty and boarded up. Despite her grandmother’s warnings to stay away, Sandrine is captivated by the mansion and soon meets Julien, the architect hired by her grandmother. A newfound passion emerges between Sandrine and Julien, until darker forces begin to take hold. The legend of La Lune, a sixteenth-century witch, haunts Sandrine’s grandmother’s home and eventually begins to take hold of her, too. Spooky, supernatural, and packed with romance, this tale of mystic witchery is quite unique.
We are living for the drama of possession, power, and passion as they play out against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris in this novel. When Sandrine Salome flees New York for Paris to escape her dangerous husband, a family curse illuminates the fine line between explosive desire and complete ruination.
Alinor, a seventeenth-century English woman, seeks refugee from her abusive husband. In a graveyard, she waits for a promised ghosts that is supposed to declare her free. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run. Unaware of the dangers that will come, Alinor follows James through the treacherous marshland. But a woman with a smart mind, skilled in herbs, and without a husband evokes suspicion in their new town. During this time of witch-mania, the villagers fear Alinor’s ambition and threaten lethal consequences. Gregory’s novels are absorbing and meticulously researched, making TIDELANDS an intriguing historical witch pick.
This New York Times bestseller from “one of the great storytellers of our time” (San Francisco Book Review) turns from the glamour of the royal courts to tell the story of an ordinary woman, Alinor, living in a dangerous time for a woman to be different.
On Midsummer’s Eve, Alinor waits in the church graveyard, hoping to encounter the ghost of her missing husband and thus confirm his death. Until she can, she is neither maiden nor wife nor widow, living in a perilous limbo. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run. She shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marshy landscape of the Tidelands, not knowing she is leading a spy and an enemy into her life.
England is in the grip of a bloody civil war that reaches into the most remote parts of the kingdom. Alinor’s suspicious neighbors are watching each other for any sign that someone might be disloyal to the new parliament, and Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her as a woman who doesn’t follow the rules. They have always whispered about the sinister power of Alinor’s beauty, but the secrets they don’t know about her and James are far more damning. This is the time of witch-mania, and if the villagers discover the truth, they could take matters into their own hands.
“This is Gregory par excellence” (Kirkus Reviews). “Fans of Gregory’s works and of historicals in general will delight in this page-turning tale” (Library Journal, starred review) that is “superb… A searing portrait of a woman that resonates across the ages” (People).
THE THIRD WITCH is a twist on the Shakespearean play Macbeth, told from the point of view of the third witch who sings “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.” This witch, Gilly, is a teenage girl, fostered by two women in the woods after Macbeth strips her of her family. Seeking revenge, Gilly disguises herself as a boy and sneaks into Macbeth’s castle, but once she arrives, her plans continue to go awry. This delightful reimagination of a Shakespearean character is a fun and fast-paced read.
A. K. Blakemore has a new novel on the horizon this year, reminding me of her captivating historical witch novel, THE MANNINGTREE WITCHES. In this beguiling story set in seventeenth-century England, Manningtree has stood as a man-less town since the English Civil War began. One of the many women in town, Rebecca West, finds herself caught up in the hysteria of witch accusations. There is a new man in town, Matthew Hopkins, a self-proclaimed witch-hunter, who leads the charge against the women of Manningtree. Blackmore provides an interesting perspective on the group of women who are wrongly accused of malicious witchcraft. The tension gradually builds in this atmospheric novel as Rebecca, fearless and powerful, refuses to be intimidated by the patriarchy.
CONJURE WOMEN, set in the South around the time of the Civil War, brings a new sort of historical magic to the pages. This novel follows three slaves: a healing woman, Miss Maybelle; her daughter, Rue; and their master’s daughter Varina. As the war begins, the birth of a cursed child spreads fear through the local townspeople. Told in alternating time periods, this novel is brimming with outstanding historical research, memorable characters, and the remarkable strength of powerful women.
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