While there’s a genre of fantasy/magic realism that involves modern day witches living and making magic in our world, they tend to focus on young women who are discovering their magic or dealing with romantic or other complications to their magic. This is why I was so delighted to discover The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, by Bianca Marais: the main characters are six senior citizen witches. In fact, they’re almost all in their 80’s. It’s such a pleasure to read a book in which older people are not treated as if they’re tottering on the edge of the grave, but are having adventures of their own, getting into and out of danger, and living full and interesting lives. These witches are well aware of their age: they suffer from aches and pains, from memory issues, from arthritis and other age-related issues. However, they relish their years of experience and wisdom, and fight for their home and their sisterhood despite their flaws. I want to grow up to be like these witches, and after you read this, you might very well feel the same.
One of the pleasures of the book (and there are many) is the breadth of the characters. Yes, they’re all witches, they’ve all lived together (more or less) for decades, and most of them are around the same age. However, their magic differs, their particular personalities are very different, and their approaches to their problems are widely different as well. From Jezebel, whose magic is sexual attraction, to Ursula, whose power is precognition, to Queenie, who makes machinery of various sorts, to Ivy, whose connection is to plants, to Tabitha, who communicates through a raven named Widget, to Ruby, the missing and soon to be returning witch, each character is vivid in her loves and quirks and approaches to life, though they are all united in their connection to each other and to the house that has been their home for decades.
We also have Persephone, a young woman with a pet dog (named Ruth Bader Ginsburg), who wants to join the witches and help them (and be helped by them), bringing her magic tricks and her vast knowledge of social media (especially TikTok) to bear. Persephone is not one of those too-good-to-be-true young people, who knows everything the older people need to know, nor is she just a placeholder to allow the witches (especially Queenie) to explain what’s going on (though she does serve that purpose, too). She has an arc of her own, and plays a significant part in the resolution of the plot.
Ah, yes, the plot: the witches have a mortgage on their old and wonderful home, which has fallen into arrears. The local men are working together to foreclose on the mortgage, destroy the house and replace it with a sort of amusement park called Men’s World. Queenie has made a deal to get the money from Charon, a very dangerous wizard, in exchange for a magical relic the group stole many years ago. Only one small problem: none of the witches living in the house knows where the relic was hidden. The one witch who did know, Ruby, is due to return to the household soon, before the date Charon comes to collect and before the final due date of the mortgage, but time is short, and everyone’s worried about how Ruby, who’s been gone for a long time and hasn’t been in contact with any of them in the interval, is going to react.
There’s a lot of backstory, but the author reveals it brilliantly, giving us just enough information at any time to keep us interested, but not dumping all of it at any point. You’re always curious about what happened in the past, how these women got to this point, but you’re also always confident the author will give you what you need. There are twists and turns of the plot, but they work, and don’t come across as the author’s throwing in a twist just to show off.
It’s a fun read with wonderful characters, a well-constructed plot, and a very satisfying ending. Read it for the fun of seeing older women depicted in all their complications and glories, magic or not.