A matriarch of American witchcraft is fully realized in Magic Lessons, Alice Hoffman's prequel to her 1995 novel, Practical Magic. In 2017, The Rules of Magic expanded her descendants' modern-day stories, and now readers learn the roots of the sorcery, passed from mothers to daughters for centuries.
Hoffman's sympathetic telling of Maria Owens's 17th-century life is enchanting, although her journey includes the intolerance endured by many settlers--none more brutal than in Maria's first American home of Salem, Mass. Maria is a survivor. Abandoned at birth, she learns the "Nameless Arts" from her adoptive mother, Hannah. Horribly, Hannah is burned as a witch, and Maria is sent from England to Curaçao in 1680 as an indentured servant. She swears to avoid love, but no charms or teas prevent romance, or the arrival of baby Faith. Determined to find John Hathorne, the seductive merchant who fathered her daughter, Maria's healing skills earn her passage to Massachusetts. In Salem, Hathorne shuns her, but mother and daughter live tenuously under the Puritans' judgmental glares, while women surreptitiously buy her potions.
A tale of witchcraft, romance and empowerment, Magic Lessons is also a thoughtful perspective on American history. Maria and Faith settle in more open-minded Manhattan, escaping Salem's persecution in the name of religion. Even though teenage Faith explores the "dark arts," Maria holds her positive maxim: "You receive what you give threefold." Instrumental in the 1693 outlawing of witchcraft trials, she's rewarded in an unlikely happy ending--with "a man who did not believe that love could ever be a curse." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.