A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.
History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.
Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.
From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.
**** Huge thank you to Harlequin Teen for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review! ****
Is it too much to say this book has everything? LGTBQ+ Rep, POC Rep, witches, and feminism! I mean what more can you want, especially in an anthology? This is one of the best anthologies (or just books period) I have had the pleasure of reading, not a one or two star story in the whole bunch! That’s pretty damn good! I don’t know why this took me longer than usual to finish, it’s not super fast paced and I think it’s a book you shouldn’t try and rush (like I did).
I’ll be reviewing each story individually but first I’ll name a few faves.
Afterbirth by Andrea Cramer
The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert
The Well Witch by Kate Hart
The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord
Starsong by Tehlor Kay Meja – ★★★★☆
TW: Drug Use
I think my favorite part of this story was the narrating character, she’s a Latinx bruja who uses her magic to help people such as reading horoscopes are star charts. Luna’s been dealing with the consequences of her past drug use and feels alone since she has left those friends behind her. She is very big on Instagram and soon starts up a chat with another girl about science versus magic, there’s so much cute flirting I just about died! Honestly I wanted this to be a full blown book, I was surprised when it ended. Such fantastic character development in so few pages!
Afterbirth by Andrea Cramer – ★★★★★
One of my favorites in the collection, this is set in 1600s New England during a time in witch women were sent to death for witchcraft (the witch trials to be precise). This story depicts a difficult birth through the eyes of an apprentice midwife whose teacher is on trial for witchcraft. There were so many little things that I thought pulled the story along nicely but aren’t answered, yet I didn’t feel ripped off by this it just sort of flowed along well despite not knowing any definites. Overall great writing and very atmospheric.
The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe – ★★★★☆
This was a good story but felt a little on the longer side for me. The story focuses on a young healing witch, Bette, and set in a world where the first words your soulmate speaks to you appear on your body, similar to a tattoo. However, Bette is already in love with someone else and refuses her chosen soulmate and must figure out how to deal with the consequences. I really loved the characters portrayed in this story, the soulmate idea, and the forbidden/adorable romance. BUT. I wish certain things were explained a little more but it’s forgivable since it’s a short story and was more focused on the romance aspect.
Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith – ★★★☆☆
This was interesting but overall kind of “meh” to me, it didn’t really stand out to me among these other stories. It’s about a young woman who is a necromancer and helps put the spirits of the dead to rest, she is shunned among others with magic for this gift though. However, a certain occurrence happens and they suddenly need her help. It was an interesting take on necromancy that’s for sure but as I said it just wasn’t as captivating.
The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert – ★★★★★
Another favorite story for me this was just so well written and so intriguing although I was a bit heart broken by the end. I am definitely checking more out by this author though because her writing and style had me hooked! This story focuses on Queenie a young black girl with a magical gift that her family wishes to keep hidden, although her magically inclined aunt begs to differ. Queenie has been trying to hide her powers and when her pro-skateboarding best friend comes back home she finds herself in a situation she must use her powers. This was more a contemporary with some fluff but again SO WELL WRITTEN and I just adored the narrative.
The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar – ★★★★☆
Is it weird to say I just really loved the title? Because I do. Anyways this was a really fun, mythological story about friendship overcoming the odds. Shalini is in charge of writing a play for her coven for their annual “Moonapple Menagerie” but she’s hit a spot of writer’s block. She then receives help from a spirit but everything comes at a price. I really enjoyed the lore and fairy tale-esque feeling to this story! Also girl power and friendship is always a plus.
The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley – ★★★★☆
This was an excellent, creepy little story about a lineage of witches and a cursed statue. That’s all I’m saying! It also features a F/F romance and a bit of forbidden love, which I’m always game for.
The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma – ★★★★★
TW: Sexual Assault
When it comes to Nova Ren Suma’s writing I will say this: it’s always fantastic but always a little strange at the same time. This story was no different. A group of women and girls sit around a fire in the woods and wait for the newest addition to their group. I don’t want to say much else since it’s a very atmospheric story that hinges a bit on not knowing what it’s about. I will say that the witch aspect was really lost on me with this story but it was fantastic none the less and VERY feminist.
Divine Are The Stars by Zoraida Cordova – ★★★★☆
I adore Zoraida Cordova and I was very excited for her addition to this anthology. This is a magical realism story that is about a young Latinx girl, Marimar, who is going back to the family ranch to see her dying grandmother. The focus of the story is more on family and all the messy parts that come along with being a part of one. The magic bits got a bit strange at times but you know what? It was a good kind of strange!
Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff – ★★★☆☆
I enjoy stories revolving around Baba Yaga, I don’t know why but it’s one folk story that has always interested me. This was an interesting take on it featuring witches who want different things to be changed in the town they live in and the school they attend. One example would be bullying as one of the characters is considered an outcast at her school, they take revenge in their own ways. I was looking for more witchy goodness and witchcraft here though, it felt a little empty to me, very feminist though.
The Well Witch by Kate Hart – ★★★★★
TW: Animal Death and Racism
A western story featuring a witch who can conjure water out in the desert, this is something that’s definitely unique and I loved it! She lives alone out in her desert oasis with a home filled with treasures her father, a trader, would bring back for her. Three men show up at her home seeking shelter, which she gives them. One of the men is very kind while the others….not so much. I loved Elsa, the MC, and her love interest and how she ends up saving herself BUT it’s a very dark and sad story that won’t be for everyone.
Beware of Girls With Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood – ★★★★☆
This was definitely one of the more unique stories in the collection as well, it features three sisters who live their lives according to a prophecy that has followed their lineage for generations: only one will survive and bear daughters to continue the line. One sister seeks a resolution to this and things get pretty twisty. I was very intrigued by the happenings in this story BUT I really disliked the ending.
Love Spell by Anna Marie McLemore – ★★★★☆
I definitely understand the hype behind McLemore’s writing now, it’s gorgeous and atmospheric. While this wasn’t my favorite story it was still very enjoyable, it’s about a witch falling in love with a transgender boy who is an acolyte for the church. A church who refuses to give communion to witches. I’m a sucker for forbidden love as well, and this story definitely had it!
The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord – ★★★★★
If I had to pick a favorite story out of the entire anthology, this would be it.
It’s told through three different POVs of three sisters who are enjoying a weekend all together, however, the story focuses mainly on a past relationship one sister had with an abusive boyfriend who would gaslight and isolate her from her family and friends. I loved the themes of sisterhood in this short story, it was just so powerful and moving and honestly I wanted a whole book of this! I’ll be checking out all of Lord’s works now…. Also there is a small F/F romance and one of the other sisters is either bi or pan (I’m not sure exactly which since it isn’t specifically stated).
Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May – ★★★☆☆
TW: Sexual Assault
I think I can safely say this is one of the most feminist stories in the bunch, granted they ALL are very feminist but I feel this one was just…very strong. It’s about a group of girls who are sent to labor at a lumber camp to pay penance for their sinful witchcraft, however, what they really did was be brave enough to accuse their assailants for the sexual abuse they suffered. It was definitely a hard read but very worth it and very empowering. The only reason I didn’t rate this story higher was I didn’t care much for the writing style.
Overall I highly recommend checking out this beautifully feminist and witchy anthology, it’s the perfect non-spooky read for fall and Halloween TBRs!