The Book of Magic:
The Sequel to Practical Magic
By Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster
Pub date: 12-Oct-2021
AMBER LOVE 14-OCT-2021 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at Patreon.com/amberunmasked; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.
Master storyteller Alice Hoffman brings us the conclusion of the Practical Magic series in a spellbinding and enchanting final Owens novel brimming with lyric beauty and vivid characters.
The Owens family has been cursed in matters of love for over three-hundred years but all of that is about to change. The novel begins in a library, the best place for a story to be conjured, when beloved aunt Jet Owens hears the deathwatch beetle and knows she has only seven days to live. Jet is not the only one in danger—the curse is already at work.
A frantic attempt to save a young man’s life spurs three generations of the Owens women, and one long-lost brother, to use their unusual gifts to break the curse as they travel from Paris to London to the English countryside where their ancestor Maria Owens first practiced the Unnamed Art. The younger generation discovers secrets that have been hidden from them in matters of both magic and love by Sally, their fiercely protective mother. As Kylie Owens uncovers the truth about who she is and what her own dark powers are, her aunt Franny comes to understand that she is ready to sacrifice everything for her family, and Sally Owens realizes that she is willing to give up everything for love.
The Book of Magic is a breathtaking conclusion that celebrates mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, and anyone who has ever been in love.
Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of the Practical Magic movie, but have never read Alice Hoffman’s book — more specifically book one. People always told me that the movie was better. After reading Magic Lessons and now The Book of Magic I have a difficult time believing the movie captured this complex family better than the books. I’m not saying the movie still isn’t great — it absolutely is! But the movie wraps everything up from three books into one story (mostly book one) and gives the characters endings from that point. Likely the filmmakers didn’t anticipate so much more to be told. That said, I will completely understand which parts turn off fans of the film who grew so attached to these amazing women.
Since I never read book one, but did know Maria Owen’s history with her biological and adoptive mothers and their fates, I felt fine jumping into book two. If you have the chance to begin fresh I recommend reading them in timeline order, not in publication order: Magic Lessons, (The Rules of Magic goes here but I haven’t read it), Practical Magic, The Book of Magic.
Parenthood is a particular theme explored since the women are not homogenous. The great aunts, Jet and Franny, take in young Sally and Gillian after their parents are tragically killed. Franny never expected to be interested in raising children, but she and Gillian have a strong bond. Gillian desperately longs to have a daughter; noting, that by this point the youngest girls are in their twenties so Gillian (working at MIT) is probably late forties and Sally (librarian) is around fifty. Sally’s daughters, Antonia and Kylie are as different as can be. Like Franny, Antonia didn’t expect to be find a connection to mother. She is dedicated to her education and work life. She didn’t believe in love, but she believed in motherhood and has decided to make a unique family with her lifelong best friend, Scott. It turns out both of them are gay (though Antonia seems bi) and this kid will have four parents plus extended family that love it to pieces. Vincent is Sally and Gillian’s grandfather they never knew. He ran away from the family to live in France.
As for dear Kylie Owens, she becomes the center of this book’s story. She finds Maria’s secret book of shadows, The Book of the Raven which was written by Amelia Bassano. Kylie is in a relationship and battling the Owens curse. Some other relatives have taken drastic steps to try and trick the curse into not noticing their relationships. Kylie’s relationship with Gideon Barnes sets off all the turmoil for the characters.
Hoffman is a master and that title shouldn’t be thrown around lightly. What I found interesting as far as her technique is that she does exactly the opposite of what every mentor, friend, and editor have told me about my on writing: don’t “head hop” especially not in the same chapter. Well, my friends, Hoffman does it and it’s fine. It’s fluid. It never once brought me “out” of the story as people have told me numerous times about this technique. To each their own. Fans will like what they like.
The “big bad” in this book is a distant relation which ties back to Magic Lessons and the connections between Rebecca (Maria’s biological mother) and Hannah Owens (her adopted mother). Tom Lockland is named after the man who swore he married a witch, Rebecca. Rebecca sought help from Hannah Owens, a local woman skilled in the Nameless Art — a learned witch as opposed to a blood lineage witch. After those Locklands and the townspeople destroyed Rebecca and Hannah, the Lockland family itself was ruined for many generations. From nobility to poverty. The modern day Tom, nicknamed “Bad Tom” by local women who learned not to trust a thing he says, lives a destitute life. He routinely goes back to the destroyed Lockland Manor with its crumbling roof and walls to connect to the power of his ancestors and to work on his own magic. The connection is: Kylie is the thirteen-times great-granddaughter of a witch who had been married to his six-times great-grandfather.
That catches you up on the main characters. What brings them together is that Kylie’s life partner Gideon ends up in a coma and she is led to this mysterious book that was hidden for ages, The Book of the Raven, which includes dark, left-hand magic about curses. The book has the answer for casting curses and breaking them. Kylie follows the codes and ends up back in the first Essex County, the one over in England, to find the people who can help her break Maria’s curse and save Gideon’s life. Bad Tom isn’t only a selfish misogynist; he’s every kind of bad news an Owens witch could possibly encounter.
Kylie and her mother Sally go through significant transformations during the story. Kylie repeats Maria’s slide into left-hand magic. Her hair goes black to show it. Sally, who had not been able to see the color red after closing herself off to magic reverses that symptom. As many fictional witches (or super-powered characters from any genre), Sally builds up incredible power as she protects people. Afterwards… I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say Sally may have been finished with love, but it wasn’t finished with her. Part Four is subtitled The Book of Love. Writer and expert on magic, Ian Wright is perhaps “Mr. Right” for Sally.
Speaking of Kylie’s hair changing colors, this is something that Hoffman loves to detail. Colors are mentioned often. Red magic. Red hair. Red boots. Red ink. Blue thread. Black hair. Silver eyes. They wear black for weddings and white for funerals. Hoffman also loves to list the plant life in certain locations. She introduces readers to what would be native or planted. The great lore of the magnolia tree comes up repeatedly since it was a gift for Maria Owens from Samuel.
With the theme of motherhood/parenthood comes the connected cycle: birth, life, death, afterlife, new birth.
In Practical Magic, the big question was: what wouldn’t you do for love? In The Book of Magic, the big question is what wouldn’t you do for the people you love? There’s no way I couldn’t give this the highest recommendation. The characters are complex and quite individual with strong family ties they get to discover along with the reader.
PS – new familiars at the end!
Rating: 5 stars