Book Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhook (April 7, 2020)
Length: 448 pages
The Age of Witches is the third of Louisa Morgan’s historical supernatural standalone novels about witches, and once more we are treated to a journey of incredible depth and magic led by strong female characters. In this one, readers are spirited away to the late 1800s where seventeen-year-old protagonist Annis lives in New York with her wealthy father and stepmother. But while other upper-class girls her age are concerning themselves with marrying well and being proper, Annis instead has dreams of becoming a horse breeder one day, starting a new line with her beloved stallion Black Satin.
What our protagonist does not realize though, is that she is actually descended from a long line of magical women. But at some point in the past, there was a disagreement in ideology which split the family. Now Annis finds herself in the middle of a secret war of wills between two formidable witches: Harriet Bishop, her great aunt who believes that their powers should be used ethically; and Frances Allington, her stepmother who has thrown her lot in with black magic. Frances had ensorcelled Annis’ father to become the wife of one of New York’s richest and most prominent businessmen, but it’s not enough—chasing a noble title, Frances now wants to drag Annis across the ocean to England where she knows that the Marquess of Rosefield is almost broke and is looking to wed a wealthy young heiress.
Annis is furious upon learning about Frances’ plans but has no choice but to acquiesce when her father threatens to sell Black Satin. Reluctantly, she agrees to travel to England and meet the Marquess, but the truth is she has no desire to ever get married. Frances, however, has a secret trick up her sleeve. Using the same type of magic she used on Annis’ father, she concocts a spell to force an engagement between her stepdaughter and the young lord. Fortunately, Harriet is well aware of the depths Frances could sink to in order to get what she wants. Catching up with Annis, Harriet reveals everything about their lineage to the young woman. Together, they work to foil Frances’ agenda while protecting James, the strait-laced but kind-hearted Marquess of Rosefield, whom Annis has decided isn’t actually all that bad.
What I love about Louisa Morgan’s novels about witches is that they each stand out individually, despite sharing many genre elements and motifs. Thematically, they all have a historical component with a focus on multiple generations, not to mention a strong feminist message championed by female characters who chafe against the expectations of their respective societies. In a way, this makes Annis quite typical of the author’s protagonists, but she also sets herself apart with the force of her personality and unique passions. She’s fiercely independent, for one, and can be single-minded to the point of exasperation. This girl also loves horses—and I mean, loves them—to the point where it pretty much drives every single aspect of her life.
But of course, there’s also the magic that shapes Annis. I liked how The Age of Witches was probably the “witchiest” of the author’s books so far, packed with all manner of spells, cantrips and charms. The conflict of “good magic” versus “bad magic” was also explored in an interesting way, pitting family members on two sides of an age-old rift against each other. Still, like the previous books, I felt some of the feminist messages came through a bit muddled. In A Secret History of Witches, for example, it was the frustrating way the women boasted of their powerful magic but seemed only to ever use it to put men under their spell and get them pregnant. Here, Harriet is constantly expounding on the importance of using magic responsibly, yet she and Annis always seem to have a ready excuse for using it to take away someone’s free will—just because it’s minor influence or payback against some prejudiced idiot shouldn’t make it okay.
Still, I think we’ve made great strides in the characters in this one. While her women are always written extremely well, the author’s male characters in her other books have always struck me as overdone to the extreme with regards to their oppressiveness and abuse, so that they come across like caricatures rather than real people. Compared to them, James in this book was like a breath of fresh air, as he seemed to be written in a way to address those problems. And really, he was a perfect match for Annis, who came to realize that while there are plenty of terrible men like her father in the world, there are also kind souls like James with whom she can build a happy and healthy marriage.
There were some downers in this book, such as what ultimately becomes of a certain character, but I did appreciate how Morgan was able to make readers feel sympathy for someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, and that’s a clear mark of a skilled writer. But overall, I would say the tone of The Age of Witches is generally lighter, and my heart melted at the happy ending which reminded me somewhat of a regency romance. At the end of the day, I had a very enjoyable time with this novel and would not hesitate to recommend it to fans of the author’s previous novels or if you are keen to try a historical fantasy about magic and witches.