Suspiciously Specific #1: Feminist Witches
Suspiciously Specific is a new bi-weekly series of assorted book recommendations, inspired by the subreddit by the same name, as well as a short video-series by BooksandLala on Youtube. In short-form, I’ll recommend ten books across genres, that happen to have something very specific in common. Whether it be a very niche trope, a cover-trend, or a theme that is só specific you’re surprised there’s more than one book that includes it. Requests for a list are always welcome if you happen to have a specific trope you love, but think is too niche to find recommendations for.
Whether wielding pointy hats, wands or simply the power of their own independence, witchy women have appeared everywhere in fiction these past years. When updating my Ultimate Guide to Witch Fiction around Halloween this year, one type of witch stuck out as particularly prevalent however: the feminist witch. Themes of feminism and female oppression have of course historically been intertwined throughout the medieval witch-trials and demonisation of independent women, so the connection makes sense. Yet it still felt like such a specific subgenre to host só many novels being published within the span of 5 years… almost suspiciously specific. That’s where the idea or this series was born, so the only way to do it justice is to kick it off with a list surrounding this theme. Here are 10 tales centring women ceasing their independence and power, and one in which (queer)men embody the same ideals, as I’m a firm believer that feminism isn’t just for women, but for everybody.
Genre: historical fantasy One-line Synopsis: the late 1800’s suffragist-movement meets witchcraft, magick and paganism. Although this book wasn’t a personal favourite for me, it couldn’t be more perfect for this highly specific theme. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: suffragettes, witches, New Salem. TW: ableism (challenged on page), animal suffering/death, sexual assault, transphobia (challenged on page)
2. The Year of the Witching – Alexis Henderson Genre: historical horror One-line Synopsis: A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: racial discrimination, religion, reads like The Witch or The Village. TW: sexual assault, child abuse (including physical harm), racial slurs.
3. Circe – Madeline Miller Gerne: fantasy One-line Synopsis: one of the most intriguing female side characters, and one of the first literary witches from the Odyssey is given her own voice and story in this retelling of the classic Greek myth. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: Greek mythology retelling, magical island, motherhood. TW: rape.
4. The Bass Rock – Evie Wyld Gerne: historical fiction One-line Synopsis: Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other and to a quest for independence. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: Scotland, coastal setting, modern gothic, toxic masculinity. TW: violence against women and children in many forms, alcoholism.
5. Now She is Witch – Kirsty Logan Genre: fantasy One-line Synopsis: A modern dark fairytale set in a world of violence and beauty in which women grasp at power through witchcraft and poisons, through sexuality and childbearing, through performance and pretence, and most of all through throwing other women to the wolves. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: poisons, folklore/fairytales, queer. TW: physical violence, rape.
6. The Women Could Fly – Megan Gidding Genre: dystopian One-line Synopsis: A dystopian novel about the unbreakable bond between a young woman and her mysterious mother, set in a world in which witches are real and single women are closely monitored. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: race, queer, classism and intersectional feminism in that context.
7. The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave Genre: historical fiction One-line Synopsis: After a storm has killed off all the island's men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: Norway, religion, inspired by true events, queer. TW: sexual assault/rape, domestic abuse, arranged marriage, racism, torture in context of witch-trials.
8. The Queens of Innis Lear – Tessa Gratton Genre: fantasy One-line Synopsis: a coming of age- high fantasy retelling of King Lear in which three magically inclined daughters fight for power, independence and the throne after their prophecy-obsessed mad king has left the lands drained of its wild magic. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: Shakespear retelling, magical island, royalty, wild magic. TW: miscarriage, thoughts of self-harm/suicidal ideations.
9. The Change – Kirsten Miller Genre: supernatural thriller One-line Synopsis: menopause manifests as magical powers in three determined women, who aren’t afraid to use their newfound witchy leverage to right the wrongs that have been done to them and their peers. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: reads like The Witches of Eastwick in bookform. TW: graphic (sexual) violence.
10. Slewfoot – Brom Gerne: horror One-line Synopsis: Part original dark fairytale, part revenge quest; a puritarean thriller featuring demons, witchcraft and a small helping of feminist rights on the side. Keywords and Trigger Warnings: dark arts, revenge, demonic entity/possession, modern fairytale. TW: torture, animal cruelty.
11. Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas Genre: young adult fantasy One-line Synopsis: When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. Keywords: queer, young adult, M-M romance, Latinx, feminism-isn’t-just-about-women.