The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
A prequel to Practical Magic, this is a book I was eagerly anticipating but took a bit of time to warm up to. The writing is wonderful, as you would expect from Hoffman, but with a slow pace, detailed descriptions and the focus very much on the characters and their relationships rather than spells and potions it took a while to fully engage me.
Franny and Jet’s story is fascinating and truly heartbreaking at times and I’m glad to have read it.
Find your magic
For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.
Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.
From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.
The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.
I have to confess I’m really struggling with how to rate and review this. I finished it quite late in the evening yesterday and hoped that after a good night’s sleep I’d know how I felt about it but unfortunately my feelings are still all over the place.
I think it’s pretty safe to say when I first started reading it I struggled. Practical Magic is one of my favorite films (I haven’t read the book – sorry) so I think I was expecting something very similar in style and tone. When I was faced with a slow and drawn out story that felt more like a family saga I have to admit I was disappointed. Hoffman’s writing is brilliant and very vivid and she really makes siblings Frances, Jet and Vincent come to life but it’s done in such a slow and meandering way that it really couldn’t hold my attention.
The focus of the story is very much on the family and the relationships between them. There is however a lot of magic in this book, particularly in the beginning as the siblings set out to discover who they are and what they can do. Forbidden by their parents to dabble, they learn first from a hidden magical text and some experimentation and then from their Aunt Isabelle all of the rules, potions and spells they could ever need to know.
Like a lot of the story though there is no big bang or excitement when it comes to magic. It’s all very gently introduced with a focus on the theory rather than the practical. As information on what each and every herb could be used for or what ingredients are required for specific potions was presented I must admit I found my attention wandering. I began finding excuses to put the book down and go do something else and on a few occasions I was pretty close to just giving up on the whole thing.
This wasn’t really helped by my inability to really connect with any of the characters or the relationships between them. With Hoffman’s wonderful writing ability they are drawn beautifully and you get a real sense of even the most minor characters but there was something about them that left me a little cold. They are all well rounded, with both strengths and flaws but I just couldn’t relate to them. Given the nature of the story, it should have been packed with emotion but I just couldn’t feel it.
I think it was around the midpoint, when Franny, Jet and Vincent are on their own, that I finally began to feel and it was at that point I became engrossed in the story. Whereas previously I’d been struggling to pick it up I began to find it difficult to put down. I’m still not sure I really liked any one particular character, a lot of the time I wanted to shake them, but somehow, very stealthily they managed to sneak in and I found myself truly caring about them and hoping things would work out for them.
This is a story about family, love and accepting who you are more than a story of witchcraft and magic. The pace is slow and the writing full of vivid imagery and detail. There isn’t much in the way of fun or light and to be honest the whole thing left me feeling pretty depressed, I cried a lot, but overall I am glad I stuck with it and read to the very end.
It’s probably not a book I would recommend everyone reads, I think it’s more suited to the type of reader who likes a slow paced story about family and relationships rather than one looking for magic and excitement, but I did enjoy it.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. This has in no way influenced my review.
5 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman”
This was on my TBR but after experiencing similar issues with the book Practical Magic I had pushed it further and further down the list. Thanks for the honest review, I think I will be skipping this one.
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It wasn’t bad. It just didn’t engage me the way I hoped it would. Probably the best part was finding out how Sally and Gillian ended up with the aunts.
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Hmm, that might be worth knowing.
[…] It’s probably more family saga rather than a book about magic and witchcraft and it’s a bit of a slow burner. I really struggled with the first half and was pretty close to DNFing but decided to stick with and I’m glad I did as it really picks up after around the 55% mark and turned into a very emotional read. You can read my full review here. […]