Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Why I bought the book: Magic Lessons is a prequel to the book Practical Magic. I am ashamed to admit I had never read Practical Magic (which I have now remedied along with book two in the series The Rules of Magic and a third will be out later this year The Book of Magic). I will likely purchase her entire back list and add her to my top favorite writer list. I had enjoyed the 1998 movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.

Magic Lessons traces the origin of the Owens bloodline starting with Maria Owens in the 1600s and her mother Rebecca. Rebecca leaves her daughter Maria with a woman named Hannah Owens, so she can chase love. Thus begins the Owens women's fraught entanglement with romantic love which seems doomed to bring them sorrow even as they help other women with their relationship woes. Hannah teaches Maria to always love someone who loves you back. However, like her wild mother, Maria falls for a weak man who leaves her pregnant and alone in the world. Maria follows him to Salem Massachusetts where she gives birth to her own daughter, Faith. Faith is kidnapped by a woman desperate for a child as Maria is on her way to the gallows to be executed for being a witch. Maria escapes and spends years searching for her daughter.

From an analytical standpoint, Hoffman does several things that would make me set aside another book. The story is related by a distant omniscient narrator like fairy tales of old. The characters are spoken of, not spoken through. The entire story could be considered telling not showing. There are historical information dumps and long lists of magical potions and plants. I admit I skipped over the lists. The book would be a great research source for anyone interested in writing about magic and folk cures in the 1600s. The story also has some interesting history about New York City. 

However, the haunting story weaves a magic of its own. You care about the women trying to find their way in a world where they have no real power, except for the ability to practice the "natural arts" they are born with. It is a beautiful treatise on what constitutes love and what people are driven to in the name of it, how the heart sometimes wants what it shouldn't have and often regrets it. It explores the love of a mother/mother figure for her child.

The use of magic is described in enchanting terms. This is not the special-effects laden, wand waving kind of magic from modern cinema. It is a history lesson about folk wisdom, herbal lore, and incantations. It is a story about the danger of superstitions and the power of emotions.

I was caught up in Hoffman's story spell and could not stop reading until The End. I highly recommend trying it, even if it isn't your usual cup of Courage tea.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Lessons-Prequel-Practical-ebook/dp/B084G9VWRW/ in paperback or Kindle. 

You should check out her back list while there too.

Posted by Diana Hurwitz, author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

1 comment :

  1. This emphasizes the fact that there is not just one way to write a compelling story. Even when hard and fast rules are broken, the result can grip the reader.


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