• Kara Cushway

13 Books About Witches

Here’s what I love about October: wind in the trees, crows, and the way the world seems to dim. I love the anticipatory feeling of this month, how it’s a grim gateway to the bright holiday season. In October, people seem to be more willing to touch their dark side, to embrace grey skies, endings, the idea of ghosts. Maybe minds open in October. Maybe we are not in charge, after all. Maybe there’s more to our world than meets the eye.

Always, around this time of year, I am drawn to books with a darker setting, books that make me want to cozy up under a blanket with a hot drink and listen to rain tap on the windows. I know that, for some people, this means mysteries and horror stories, but for me, it means books about witches.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with witches; I think, for anyone interested in women’s history, it’s hard not to be. With regards to women’s rights, witches have not only been symbolic of the oppression and persecution of women throughout history, the history of the witch is a potent and sobering warning to present-day women of how patriarchal powers can twist history, stamping out the voices – and lives – of its female citizens with scant regard to logic or consideration for human life.

Though the word “witch” has a negative connotation, societally, I believe that the witch as an archetype cannot be negative, and should not be feared; rather, the witch is a compelling model of the independence, ancient wisdom, and innate power womankind should aspire to.

Here are some of my favorite books featuring witches or witchlike characters – strong, compassionate women who don’t need no man (but… ahem… often end up with one anyway).

1. The Winter Witch – Paula Brackston

Interested in witches? Check out Paula Brackston. Every one of her stories has a character with magical leanings, and her books are spellbindingly readable. I’m currently on tenterhooks waiting for the release of her newest book, coming out in November, called Secrets of the Chocolate House – who wouldn’t want to read a book with a name like that?

The Winter Witch follows Morgana as she’s packed off and wed to Cai, a farmer from the highlands of Wales. Morgana has not spoken since she was a little girl, and because of this, she finds that, when they reach her new husband’s home, people resent and mistrust her. Worse still, her arrival seems to bring on a series of disastrous events that threaten the continuation of her husband’s lands, and of their tentatively blossoming marriage; in the end, it’s up to Morgana to wield her mysterious powers and end the threat once and for all.

2. How to Hang a Witch – Adriana Mather

Totally spooky and wonderful story. How to Hang a Witch follows Samantha Mather and her stepmother as they move in to a new house in the infamous Salem, Massachusetts, to be near her father who is currently comatose in the hospital. As a descendant of Cotton Mather, instigator of the original Salem Witch Trials, Sam is shunned at school and must make her own way. With guilt about her heritage, friction with her stepmother, and dealing with a furious ghost that resides in her bedroom, Sam has a lot to deal with; to top that off, she finds out that she is part of a curse that has been set on those with ties to the Trials. Though they mistrust each other, Sam must join forces with her bedroom ghost and with the Descendants, a group of girls descended from the Salem “Witches”, to break the centuries-long cycle of destruction, suspicion, and hatred.

3. The Witch’s Daughter – Paula Brackston

A second Paula Brackston book on the same list? Yes, and I’m telling you, it’s worth it to seek this author out if you like books about witches. She has a ton of beautiful and magical stories to tell; you won’t regret reading her. Once you’re done with this one, be sure to check out its sequel, The Return of the Witch.

This story skips from past to present, following Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith from her early life as the daughter of a local wise woman back in 1628 to her current home in present-day England. A reluctant immortal, Elizabeth’s long life hits a snag when young Tegan shows up on her doorstep, and, despite herself, Elizabeth finds herself teaching the girl what she knows of the ways of the Hedge Witch. But danger is never far behind Elizabeth; she is still running from the Warlock Gideon Masters, and has been ever since the day her mother was hanged as a witch. That was the day Gideon whisked Elizabeth away from the vengeful mob, awakened her inner power, and rendered her immortal. Though she’s been fleeing from him for almost three hundred years, Gideon will stop at nothing to collect payment for saving her life. It’s up to Elizabeth to face her enemy and protect her beloved protégé, before the warlock brings disaster down on everything and everyone Elizabeth has come to love.

4. Once a Witch – Carolyn MacCullough

After you’ve read this one, check out the sequel, Always a Witch. The books definitely have a “teen” vibe to them, but you’ll still like them if you enjoy witches, fall, or time travel!

Tasmin Greene has grown up in a large family of successful and powerful witches, but she herself has never demonstrated any proclivity for magic herself. When a stranger visits her family’s bookstore with a peculiar request, she finds herself irrevocably intrigued, and starts an investigation that may bring disaster down on not only herself but everyone she’s ever loved.

5. Born Wicked series – Jessica Spotswood

Cate Cahill and her sisters are witches. For their whole lives, they have had to hide this fact from everyone they know and love, including their own father. When Cate uncovers a perilous secret in her deceased mother’s diary, she begins a desperate search in an effort to disprove this prophecy. While balancing inane tea parties, dodging suspicious priests of the Brotherhood, and stealing a few precious moments with the handsome and scholarly Finn Belastra, Cate begins to unravel the secret that may set the sisters against each other forever.

6. Waverly Sisters Series – Sara Addison Allen

If you’re on the lookout for books with a magical feel but no direct reference to witchcraft (I can’t think why you’d want one without the other, but it could happen), this is a book for you. I love the bright, New-England-in-the-fall feel to these two books, even though they take place in North Carolina, and I always get excited when a book includes bits of green or kitchen witchery, which this book has aplenty. The first book in the series is Garden Spells, followed by First Frost, and both are excellent.

The Waverly sisters have always had skills that, to some, might be construed as magical. Claire Waverly creates her magic with food, using herbs and edible flowers to encourage thoughtfulness or to attract love. Her younger sister, Sydney, has her own set of skills … she just hasn’t found the magic in them yet. Follow the sisters through Garden Spells, where they reunite and reconcile, then through First Frost, where their magic is honed and a secret from the past almost tears them apart.

7. Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman

A classic. I, horror of horrors, watched the movie before I read the book, and because of that, I do prefer the movie to the book; that’s usually how these things go for me. Ah, well. C’est la vie.

After running away and staying away for years, Gillian Owens has burst back into her sister Sally’s life – with some horrific baggage. Practical Magic follows the sisters as they work to come to terms with the messes they’ve made and have yet to clean up, and as they rebuild bonds that have almost disappeared in their yearning to escape from their family’s legacy.

8. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Though the main characters are not technically witches, I think it’s safe to refer to them as magicians or mages, which put them in the same realm as witches, IMO, and definitely worthy of being on this list.

All across the globe, people are talking about the Night Circus. One day, an open field might be completely empty; the next, the circus has appeared, silently, without ceremony, its black-and-white-striped tents starkly contrasting with the golden wheat. However, this idyllic scene plays host to a magical and mysterious underground duel whose own participants don’t know they’re playing in a fight to the death.

9. Blackthorn & Grim series – Juliet Marillier

Again, this book series is not explicitly about witches. But Blackthorn is a healer, and as we know, healers were the original figures on which witches were based. Since these books took place (they’re fictional, but set in Ireland circa 9th or 10th century), the image of the female healer has been warped and twisted into the evil, hook-nosed being stirring a bubbling cauldron that we now picture when we hear the word “witch”. Because of that, I thought it only fitting to include a story or two in which the witch’s original persona was prominent.

Also, Juliet Marillier. (In case you’re new here, please note that I love Juliet Marillier. Her writing is the best. If I wrote a book, I’d want it to be just like hers.)

Blackthorn and Grim escape the soul-crushing confines of the lockup where they’ve both long been imprisoned, but not without cost. Instead of seeking the vengeance she so badly desires, Blackthorn is held back by the promise she made to her fey savior: that she will not seek revenge, but will travel north to Dalriada and ply her trade as a healer for the folk in the area of Winterfalls. The three books in this series follow them as they encounter uncanny transformations, cruel secrets, and astonishing magic, but through it all, the unlikely pair save each other countless times and strengthen the bond that grew between them through their long and unjust incarceration.

10. The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis

This 6th book in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia has always been my favorite of them all. Though The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe definitely has a witch in it, I find The Silver Chair to have a much bleaker, grayer feel to it that’s perfect for autumn.

The Silver Chair follows Eustace Scrubb and his classmate Jill Pole as they pass through a door in the schoolyard’s wall and find themselves unexpectedly in the land of Narnia. There, they learn that young Prince Rilian has been abducted; their task is to seek out the prince and bring him home. They join up with Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle, who guides them across the sparse and punishing terrain of Narnia’s West, encountering deep ravines, man-eating giants, and a Witch who is not all she seems to be. Can they save the prince before it’s too late?

11. Three Dark Crowns series – Kendare Blake

Gloomy and gruesome, the Three Dark Crowns series is a must for anyone whose favorite Disney villain is the queen from Snow White. Again, the queens in this series aren’t referred to as witches in the story, but they wield powerful magic, and are female – so, close enough.

In the world of Three Dark Crowns, queens are selected from amongst a trio of sisters; triplets, all equal claimants to the throne, and each with powerful talents. Katharine is a poisoner, with the ability to ingest poisons without any ill effects; Arsinoe is a naturalist who has the power to control animals and influence the world’s natural flora; Mirabella is an elemental, with power to call up a raging fire or deafening storms. As soon as the three sisters turn 16, they must channel their considerable power into battling each other, for only one may be crowned Queen, and this is a fight to the death.

12. The Witch of Willow Hall – Hester Fox

This is one of the more recent “witch books” I’ve read. I would classify it more as a ghost story, but the main character is a witch, so here we are. If you like Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, or pretty much any Gothic romance, this is the (witch) book for you.

The Montroses flee to their country home after a scandal rocks the foundations of their family in their home city of Boston. Even upon arriving at Willow Hall for the first time, Lydia can feel that there is something dark about this place, something … wrong. Her greatest wish is to protect those she loves, but there are forces at work here that are stronger than she is. Between budding romances, mysterious occurrences at Willow Hall, and Lydia’s slow realization that she has a power she was never before aware of, tension builds, culminating in a tragedy that threatens to break every member of her tenuously held-together family.

13. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane – Katherine Howe

For unlucky #13 I thought I’d do something a little different, so this book is one that I haven’t read, but is on my TBR list (that’s “to be read” for those not as well-versed in book-speak). Of course, there are like, a thousand books about witches on my TBR list, so I hope you appreciate how difficult it was for me to pick just one for this most sacred place of #13 on this list.

Traveling back and forth between the Salem Witch Trials of 1690 and modern day, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane follows Harvard graduate Connie Goodwin through the events of one eventful and revelatory summer. Connie plans to spend her summer immersed in research for her doctoral dissertation, but her mother asks her for an unexpected favor: to take over the sale of Connie’s grandmother’s old home near Salem, Massachusetts. But this supposedly small favor takes a turn for the interesting when Connie uncovers a yellowed scrap of parchment bearing the name Deliverance Dane. Connie makes it her mission to find out who Deliverance was, but soon finds herself plagued by visions of the witch trials, leading her to believe that maybe she has stronger ties to those harrowing events than she had ever before believed.

I can’t wait to read #13, and if you find yourself, this season, on the lookout for a book (or two) with witches as a main theme, I hope you’ll be able to find something on this list that will spark your interest!

Which books do you read when fall rolls around? Are there certain genres or themes that you gravitate towards? I’d love to hear about the books you love! Happy October!


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