I love when random library picks turn out to be total gems. I downloaded The Witches of New York based on the cover – it’s pretty and a little mysterious. And happily, the book itself is a solid bit of historical fiction.

Witches of New York

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? – Goodreads

McKay hit the nail on the head for all of the important stuff: the plot was quick, entertaining, and full of engaging characters (with a rather unsettling villain). I loved her descriptions of the setting and time period – I could picture it all easily. And much of the story is centred around Cleopatra’s Needle, which was freaky timing! A couple months ago, I received a box from The Mysterious Package Company that focused a lot on Cleopatra’s Needle – it even included a tiny model of it (see the picture above). The Needle came from Egypt and was brought to New York in the late 1800s – the history of the obelisk (and it’s sisters) is fascinating and fun reading if you’re at all inclined. Ok, backing off from the slightly off-topic tangent!

The three witches central to the story practiced witchcraft that seemed closer to modern day Wicca than any fiction I’ve read before. It was actually pretty refreshing to see a positive and nature-based portrayal of a witch – I’ve gotten a bit tired of today’s pop culture interpretation (especially in YA fiction). It’s funny, I’ve been leaning more toward adult/literary fiction lately – perhaps I’m in need of a YA break.

This book is one of those solid reads that leave you wanting a sequel. It actually ended with a bit of a mystery so that McKay certainly could pull it off. If she does, I’ll definitely read it.