Another extremely worthy candidate. Probably the best I’ve reviewed yet. My original draft of this post believed that it would have no trouble becoming a finalist. In my humble opinion, it’s that good.
But I was also basing that opinion (not my opinion of the book) around the hype that I was seeing when I listened to this lovely piece of work back in January (2021). When it was finally available from the library (long wait list is usually a good sign that people love it), I was seeing this book at #3 on audible, and #1 in it’s respective genre (which I will not try to classify because Amazon is fickle about these things and displays only the genres it’s doing best in at the moment, which apparently changes quickly).
All of that to say, it seems its popularity has waned a bit recently but I think that is just the product of time passing, nothing to say of the book’s quality (which is stellar). We can still find it on NPR’s Best Books of 2020 (the order does not seem to matter on this page, every time I refresh it looks different but the books are still the same. Just a different order), and BookPage’s Best books of 2020: Sci-fi and and Fantasy (you’ll notice The Vanished Birds is also on that list).
So why did I enjoy this book?
Hmmm. Where to start?
The most engaging part of this book is definitely its three main protagonists (each a POV). Estranged sisters, half of the fun of this book is whether or not they will come back together and trying to tease out what split them apart.
I think the next selling point is the kind of Take-Back-The-Narrative quality of this book. It seems to flip the script from assuming that witches should be feared because they’re evil, to assuming witches should be feared because they’re powerful and you’ve tried to suppress that power for too long. Of course, witches want vengeance for centuries of mistreatment, but they’ll settle for just being able to live . . . until they’ve been pushed too far to settle for that either.
I wonder if that seems familiar to anything happening in the world these days . . .
Anyway, my final thought is that this story would have been an interesting and empowering story even if the world it took place in was devoid of magic, simply because the characters are so sympathetic (wow that word is so sterile sounding) but the fact that they do have magic just makes the story that much more incredible.
This is definitely the one to beat. I mentioned earlier about thinking this one would be a finalist no problem, and that I wouldn’t need to cast a vote for it, because enough other people would, but seeing how its popularity seems to have come down in recent months (though just barely) I’m now unsure whether or not my vote might count or not. Or if this one will soar on without me.
Ultimately, in my opinion, The Once and Future Witches has all of the right parts for a Hugo winner, and it will (for me) just come down to whether or not I end up just enjoying another book more.