If you’re looking for a historical fiction witchy book set in 1911 New York City that has strong female friendships, look no further – The Witch Haven is here! I fell in love with this book from the very first chapter and I was hooked. It’s almost like….it was magic.
Title: The Witch Haven
Author: Sasha Peyton Smith
Series: Untitled (?) Duology
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for providing me an arc! All opinions are my own.
Frances’s brother is murdered under suspicious circumstances and with her mother mentally unwell, 17 year old Frances finds a job as a seamstress. It’s a steady job in a relatively safe work environment when many factory jobs in 1911 New York City were not. One day her (male) employer corners and attacks her, and before she knows it, her shears end up in his neck and he’s dead at her feet. She tries to act normal but knows she’s going to get caught… until two nurses show up and say she has tuberculosis and must take her away immediately to a sanitarium.
Except its not a sick house at all, but a school for girls to safely practice and learn to use their magic – because Frances has magic inside of her. She is amazed that magic is real and this whole other world exists next to the one she thought she knew.
Frances forms an easy friendship with one of her roommates, Lena, and one of the “nurses” (who is actually also a student) who came to first find Frances – Maxine. One of my favorite thing about this book is the friendship and sisterhood amongst the girls. This is the kind of found family troupe I love the most. When you might not have anyone else, but those near you take you in as one of their own. Their bond through magic and being a woman in 1911 New York is stronger than anything else.
Besides a story about magic, this is also a murder mystery. Frances believes with magic, she can discover who killed her brother and get revenge. There’s a lot going on in this story and it all happens very quickly. There is also a bit of a romance – its not a huge aspect of the plot, but there is some romance here.
One thing I must point out that I loved early on – Haxahaven is a school just for girls – but that means anyone who identifies as a girl. “Rich, poor, any race, from any neighborhood, girls whose parents thought they were boys upon birth, girls who are only sometimes girls, girls who are still deciding, people who are neither boys nor girls.” I didn’t expect that and was pleasantly surprised to see the author included a diverse line like that for a book set in 1911.
One of the side characters is also queer (lesbian) and its mentioned on page.
Lena is Native American and speaks of how she was stolen from her home and forced into a school along with many other children, until it was discovered she had magic and was brought to Haxahaven. As this takes place during the women’s suffrage movement, Lena is also quick to point out that, “Only certain kinds of people get to be equal.” Meaning if you’re white. This is another aspect I did not expect but I’m pleased to see addressed and adds another layer to this plot.
I don’t want to give away too much, but this book might be on my favorites of 2021 list, it was such a delight to read and touched upon some important and still relevant issues as mentioned above. I just learned this is scheduled to be a duology – I originally thought it was a standalone and honestly, it can be read as a standalone. The ending is a little open ended but I’m satisfied with how this story ended. But I’m also eager for more.
I started reading the physical arc, got about halfway through it, and then life happened. So it took me 2 months to pick up the audiobook again and finish this story but I’m so glad I did! I thought the narration was perfect and whimsical. I really enjoyed listening to it, but you aren’t missing out if you don’t listen – I enjoyed my time reading it physically as well.
I’m giving this a 4.5 and rounded up to 5 on Goodreads. I had so much fun and flew through this book! It was a page turner and I wanted to know what would happen next. Parts of it were predictable but parts also took me by surprise. I love historical fiction so add in some magic with that and I’m sold. Highly recommend this book!