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3 witchy books for fall that offer fright and delight

Meghan Collins Sullivan
/
NPR

Witches have become ubiquitous in fiction these days, whether they're being unjustly persecuted in a historical setting, selling love potions in some charming seaside town, or enchanting unsuspecting princesses in a fairytale forest.

Whether the witches are good, misunderstood, or just plain wicked doesn't even matter — there are lots of great options coming out this fall. Here are few:

The Witches of Bone Hill

Cordelia Bone is dead broke and drowning in the debts her ex-husband left behind when he skipped town, so it seems like a miracle when she finds out that she and her sister have inherited a massive Victorian house and the estate of a great aunt they didn't even know they had. Upon arriving at Bone Hill, the sisters discover that the inheritance may be more trouble than it's worth. From crazed bats to mysteriously sexy groundskeepers to creepy family crypts, everything seems to be telling Cordelia to run in the opposite direction. But in order to claim the fortune she so desperately needs, she must follow her great aunt's wishes and remain at the ancestral seat of the Bone family.

The longer Cordelia stays in the house, the worse her chronic headaches get, and the more she begins to sense that there is some sinister presence seeking to do her harm. But perhaps, if she can get to the bottom of the mystery of why her mother fled Bone Hill and was subsequently murdered years before, she can finally right the wrongs that are haunting her family.

Part family epic, part supernatural thriller, and part gothic romance, Ava Morgyn's The Witches of Bone Hill is a haunted house book with a witchy twist. Cordelia is an interesting character, because initially she comes across as very distant and self-absorbed, but as she opens herself to her family history and her magical abilities, she also opens up to the reader and becomes someone compelling to root for. The Bone's magic itself is not warm and fuzzy either, often manifesting in a rather grisly fashion. It reminds me of Practical Magic -- the novel, not the movie — as there is a bite and a bitterness to this family magic and a strength and coldness to the characters that creates a vivid, if sometimes uncomfortable, world where witches commune with the dead and untangle generations of disfunction.

It's worth noting that this book does have some pretty gruesome moments, and the animals in it do not fare well. This is definitely a gothy, edgy witch book, not a cozy one!

After the Forest

Greta and her brother Hans survived being abandoned by their father and almost eaten by a wicked witch, but the village has never forgotten that there is something a bit uncanny about them. People whisper that Greta herself is a witch – and the truth is, they aren't wrong. Greta took a book of spells from the witch when they fled, and now she uses it to bake enchanted gingerbread that even the most suspicious of villagers can't resist buying.

When people begin to disappear and end up torn to pieces, the village blames a rogue bear that Greta encountered in the forest. Greta protects the bear, at first because she feels sorry for it, and then because she realizes that it is not a simple beast at all. Soon the villagers turn on her, and she'll need all the witchery she can conjure to survive.

Fairytale enthusiasts will find many familiar stories woven throughout this book. While it might seem at first like a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, it quickly departs from that origin and hints at other tales, from the sisters of Snow White and Rose Red to the bear husband of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. It's very easy to get lost in the whimsy, romance, and transformative magic as Greta navigates the different ways of being a witch and determines which choices might make her wicked.

The various tropes of fairytales are retold here more than they are subverted, and in some instances, that feels a bit uncomfortable. Specifically, there is an evil dwarf character in the book, which feels notable because he is the only dwarf character. While I understand that the inclusion of this character type is in keeping with the source material, I think it would have been more interesting to examine (and perhaps subvert) this trope and its origins rather than reinforcing it.

That said, the love for and understanding of fairytales runs deep in Kell Woods' book, and it's sure to interest anyone who has an appreciation for dark forests, enchanted princes, and clever witches.

Night of the Witch

When Fritzi's village is destroyed by witch hunters and her cousin is taken, she follows after them, intent on saving her only surviving family and bringing justice for the dead. When she accidentally catches up with the wrong group of witch hunters, she disappears a witch they've captured with her magic, but is then arrested herself by the group's captain, Otto.

Otto is deep undercover. After his mother was burned by witch hunters, he joined their ranks and became a captain to break them from the inside. He and his sister Hilde have been working on a complex plan to free over 100 people doomed for the pyres. But when he goes to arrest Hilde and put their plan into action, Hilde vanishes, leaving Fritzi in her place, threatening their plans - unless Otto is able to convince Fritizi to help him.

Together, they may just be strong enough to take down the witch hunters and their evil commander for good. But first, they're going to have to learn to trust each other.

This historical fantasy, by Sara Raasch and Beth Revis, is technically YA, but it works as a crossover into adult fantasy romance. The main focus is definitely on the relationship that builds between Fritzi and Otto, and they have some very charming moments that makes the romantic plotline feel earnest and satisfying. The connections to actual history and Germanic folk beliefs feel fairly tenuous, and there's no attempt to make the characters think or talk like anything other than modern teens so, at times, reference to actual historical elements feels a bit jarring. But as long as I kept it in my head that this was full-on fantasy, it clipped along very satisfyingly, delivering on the witch vs. witch hunter trope that is the reason to read it in the first place.

Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire.

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Caitlyn Paxson