I must confess that I haven’t actually read Practical Magic. It’s one of my favourite films, which doesn’t really count, I know. Truthfully, I didn’t even know it was a novel until I saw a Tweet about the release of its prequel, The Rules of Magic.
Happily, having since ordered Practical Magic for later, I decided to tuck into its prequel over the Christmas break.
In The Rules of Magic we meet siblings Jet, Frances and Vincent who discover their innate abilities around the same time as they find out about their mysterious aunt who occupies the Owens family home in Massachusetts. Unbeknownst to her siblings, Frances also uncovers the family curse that dooms any Owens who falls in love.
It’s a wonderful, enthralling story about the effect our choices have on our lives. The difference being that thanks to the sight, the Owens siblings already know the outcome beforehand, making what happens to them all the more tragic.
I absolutely fell in love with Jet and Frances, who I knew going in were the elderly aunts in Practical Magic (that’s not a spoiler). Despite their proficiency in the magical arts, their lives are far from blessed. A series of tragic events occur throughout their lives, testing them, changing them, almost breaking them. Love is a constant theme, as is the curse. But the plot isn’t so black and white and the ingenious sisters discover a way to twist fate with delightful results.
We also meet their moody brother Vincent, who chooses a different path to his sisters. The addition of a male Owens was surprising, but not unwelcome. This book is about the Owens sisters, and Vincent’s presence only enriches the story.
Knowing the eventual outcome (the sisters end up living together in the historic Owens house – again, this is not a spoiler) as well as the existence of the family curse, somehow emphasised the pace and sense of time passing quickly – a clever literary technique. This sense of urgency kept me turning page after furious page, as if I too, was running out of time. It’s difficult to describe just how effective this technique is. As a reader you feel like you’re reading the history of three important members of an ancient family of witches almost as if you know what’s going to happen.
I wish I could have stopped the clock at crucial moments so that Frances or Jet could have more time… Author Alice Hoffman succeeds in making them both feel real and familiar, but also fascinating and new.
The book takes place on the cusp of the Vietnam War. Hoffman doesn’t hold back, and undoes the stitches to show the very worst of it and how it tore both soldiers and families apart, including the Owens. Thankfully, the devastation is balanced against beautiful locations such as Boston, New York and Paris, which the reader gets to explore alongside the magical characters.
I loved the sense of history, mixed with the heady intoxication of love and magic that dances off the page like the soft rustle of autumn leaves.
The Rules of Magic is a truly spellbinding book. I am so thankful to have discovered the existence of this incredible and prolific author and I look forward to reading Practice Magic (and all her other work – she also writes YA) with the same sense of wonder.