The Rules of Magic – Alice Hoffman
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If you’ve ever met me in my personal life, it might be a pretty easy guess that I’m seriously into witchcraft, dark tales, and spooky aesthetics. If you knew that much about me, it would also be no surprise that I’m drawn to Alice Hoffman’s bibliography.
Her latest installment, The Rules of Magic, explores the tragic curse of the Owens family, an ancient coven of Massachusetts witches. A family feud dating back to the times of the Salem witch trials has doomed the family to never be able to keep true love; that is to say, everyone they ever genuinely love will die, unexpectedly and prematurely. As the three young Owens children navigate their powers, their family legacy, and new, deeply-felt losses, they must choose between caution and courage, and decide if love is worth fighting for (and then figure out how to fight for it.)
This book is all about aesthetic and tone for me. Hugely driven by its characters, this novel places witchcraft and magic in a realistic light-you could almost say it’s practical magic (see what I did there?). There are no allusions to Satanism or religion, there aren’t any huge, magical standoffs, and there aren’t any pointy black hats. There is only the daily life and routine of a few sad kids who happen to be able to make artisan potions, keep a pet raven on their shoulders, and occasionally move things around with their mind. Okay, so they do have some extensive magical powers, but Hoffman doesn’t shove it down our throats in a heightened, exaggerated way. As far as witchcraft goes in this book, it just is what it is.
This book moved slowly for me; Hoffman paints with extensive details, and the book moves carefully through the years of the story. Hoffman is patient, and I had to remind myself to be the same. With this book, it’s crucial that you, as a reader, are down to have things explained to you, instead of get involved in the action. If you can accept narration over witnessing, you’ll get through this book just fine.
My favorite character was far and away Vincent, the youngest sibling and the only brother. He grapples with the dark side of his powers, and as he grows older, he begins to find out who he really is. After being a cynical child, a passionate, moody artist, and a serial lover boy, he finally discovers his own true love, and, without spoiling anything, it is such a powerful turn of events. Hoffman is a compassionate genius for her decision-making within Vincent’s fate.
Although the characters are tastefully developed, and the plot is artfully maneuvered, I was left wishing for one specific detail that Hoffman has left somewhat unattended. The children are largely independent, except for a matriarchal Aunt, and they don’t have much in the way of money, taking to selling their potions and cures to the neighbors. However, they are able to go without “normal” jobs, and often travel between Massachusetts, Paris, California, and New York. I realize that I’m griping about realism within a book about witches, but in a book so detail-oriented, it’s just a nagging little concern to have these explanations brushed under the rug.
Yet, Hoffman has managed to sell me on her world of tragedy, young love, and magic. The underlying themes of forgiveness, family, and courage are strongly translated into fiction, and it becomes easy to relate to the Owens’ strange world. I must reiterate one last time: Alice Hoffman has to be the undisputed queen of modern witch literature, and so I will limitlessly praise her delivery of a completely unique aesthetic frame. I know there weren’t any pointy black hats and cloaks involved here, but I’m totally inspired to revamp my wardrobe and live like an Owens sister. Hopefully, if I’m lucky, I can love like an Owens, too.