I really like and respect novelist Ami McKay! I love how she excavates our history, then spins it for fictional purposes. She’s great at creating evocative places and times, and interesting characters. Her previous novels – The Birth House and The Virgin Cure – were books I deeply enjoyed. Her new novel, The Witches of New York, has us revisiting main character, Moth (now ‘Adelaide’), from The Virgin Cure. So… all of this to say I was, of course, hugely and keenly anticipating the new novel. I tried very hard to keep my excitement and expectations in check, but sometimes it’s difficult – excitement just bubbles up, you know? (SO EXCITED!)
About the book (from the jacket description):
The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (Moth from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and gardien de sorts (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment.
Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?
Beforehand, I did manage to maintain very little awareness about the new story (all I knew was ‘Moth is back!’ hahaha). I didn’t know if readers were in for spooky, creepy, eerie, or what? (The cover certainly is intriguing and a little mysterious in its feel.) If you have concerns about the creepy-factor, don’t worry. There is definitely a sinister side to TWoNY, but it’s not super-scary or frightening. I did like the new novel. Perhaps not quite as much as the previous two books… but I felt engaged and entertained throughout TWoNY. The story was a little predictable for me, but I was still eager to turn the page to see what was coming next. I feel my (minor) hesitations about TWoNY are down to two issues:
1) TWoNY feels like a set-up for a series (or – at the very least – a second, followup, book). Though the novel ties up nicely enough at the end, there are aspects which are left undone, along with plenty of foreshadowing. So some of the book felt like ‘set-up’ instead of a fully and completely realized whole unto itself. This was surprising to discover as I was reading (which, really, it shouldn’t have been, given how ‘in the dark’ I was able to keep myself over this book). But I will read whatever McKay publishes – with hope I am not way out in left field on the series idea (I really don’t think I am, heh). It would be so nice to get some resolutions to a couple of storylines within TWoNY!
2) The style of writing felt a little bit too YA-y to me. – not quite as mature or… insightful, perhaps, as McKay’s style in her previous works. TWoNY felt a little more simplistic in its tone and telling. The content of the novel is not something I would recommend to younger readers – it’s definitely a book for adults, or very mature readers in their late-teens. One of the primary characters is 17yo, so TWoNY could be an attractive consideration for older teens. There is some sexuality in the story (no too intimate or detailed at all), and I already mentioned the sinister tension/mystery. It could be creepy or unsettling to younger readers. So just be aware of those considerations if you are contemplating the book for your mature teen readers.
Oh – another small point: Moth/Adelaide. I feel like I should go back and re-read The Virgin Cure. I loved Moth in that book. In TWoNY, she’s a bit older and a bit more jaded and wounded by life. Though always street smart and cunning, there was a sensitivity to her in TVC which, though not totally absent in TWoNY was lessened in some ways. This is one of the areas that could be expanded if a second book or series is coming. I would have liked more depth to Moth/Adelaide’s arc, but she’s sharing the stage now with a few other great characters, so the storylines are spread around. But… we are left with imagining the possibilities to come, which can be quite enjoyable!
So… to sum up: I did quite like the story, characters, and mood McKay gives us in TWoNY. (and it’s an absolutely perfect read for late-October!) I rate this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of 5). If you’ve ever dabbled with a ouija board, I think you will have fun with this book! (And, even if you haven’t, the details from this era in New York City are wonderful! So, come for the historical fiction, stay for the magic.)
I am also reading The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff at the same time. This has actually been a fantastic paired read, with each book benefiting from the other, and overlapping with one another. So I highly recommend that strategy, if you are into the idea of pairing a nonfiction work with your fiction. And, again, it’s the perfect time of year for these two books – they set a great mood for late-October reading.
I would love to know what you’ve been reading! Leave a comment to share your recommendations!