England, 1664. Hannah Owens finds a baby in the woods, wrapped in a blue blanket her name, Maria, embroidered along the side. She brings the girl home and raises her as her own, teaching her the Nameless Arts–the herbs to help ease pain, the best way to use blue thread for protection.
When Hannah is accused of witchcraft and burned to death inside her small cottage, Maria knows there is nothing left for her in England. Traveling to Curaçao as an indentured servant, Maria discovers the world is much bigger and beautiful than she first thought. At fifteen she thinks she’s fallen in love with an American businessman. But she forgets Hannah’s first lesson: love someone who will love you back.
Following Hathorne to Salem, Massachusetts irrecvocably changes Maria’s path forever when heartbreak and fear lead her to invoke a curse that will haunt the Owens family for centuries to come.
Every witch knows that you can make the best of fate or let it make the best of you. But Maria also knows it isn’t always so easy to do as you like without doing harm. When everything you give is returned to you threefold, Maria will have to relearn how to love freely if she wants to protect her family and her heart in Magic Lessons (2020) by Alice Hoffman.
Magic Lessons is a prequel to Hoffman’s now classic novel Practical Magic. This novel focuses on the first Owens witch, Maria, and the advent of the family’s infamous curse. It can be read on its own without familiarity with Hoffman’s other books in this series. The story is told by an omniscient third person narrator with a close focus on Maria and an audio version that is wonderfully narrated by Sutton Foster.
The Owens family are white. Ending in Salem, Massachusetts, Maria spends a brief part of the novel in Curaçao and also in New York City (a significant location for the latter part of this novel as well as parts of The Rules of Magic.) Along the way Maria also encounters sailor Samuel Dias who is a Sephardic Jew.
Hoffman blends atmospheric settings, historical detail, and her own distinct characters to create a story filled with magic. Readers familiar with this world (or the 1998 film adaptation) might think they know how this story goes, but Magic Lessons still manages to pack in satisfying surprises.
Steeped in the practical knowledge of the Nameless Art and the enduring strength of love–both for good and for ill–Magic Lessons is a thoughtful and evocative story; a wonderful installment and a perfect introduction for new readers.
Possible Pairings: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, In the Shadow Garden by Liz Parker, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Among Others by Jo Walton