Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Published 2nd November 2017.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Opening sentence: “Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from home, disguise who you were, and fit into polite society.”

This is a prequel to Hoffman’s bestselling book, Practical Magic (published in 1995). I haven’t actually read that, but do have a vague recollection of seeing the Nicole Kidman / Sandra Bullock film back in the day, so this book felt vaguely familiar.

I have to say straight off that, for me, there were just too many narrative flaws to make this a truly enjoyable read. The story focuses on the lives of sisters Francis (known as Franny) and Bridget (known as Jet) and their brother Vincent Owens, from when they are children to adults. They come from a long line of Boston-based Owenses, who are all witches and wizards. When we meet the siblings, their mother, Susanna, has decided not to tell them about their ancestry, AND YET, when a mysterious Aunt Isabelle writes to 17-year old Franny saying she has reached the age to come and learn all about her heritage, Susanna lets her go – with her younger siblings – to discover all. Why did Susanna try so hard to hide their heritage from them for all these years then?

Also, the main plot focuses on a ‘love curse’ that plagues all women in the Owens family – any person they fall in love with will be met with an untimely end… to say this love curse is inconsistent would be an understatement. It is a curse that apparently you can trick by just thinking, ‘I’m not in love’, when in fact you clearly are. Yet boys with crushes pay a very harsh price for their unrequited love that doesn’t lead to a relationship. The curse is apparently very flexible and it was this ‘make-up-the-rules-as-you-go-along’ feel that I found frustrating and gave this part of the story no authority.

I don’t want to be completely negative, as this wasn’t a terrible read by any means, for example I enjoyed the elements of magic, rituals and spells woven throughout, and the concept of witches and wizards living in our world is always going to spark my interest. There were a few unexpected little twists in there but, interestingly, throughout this book, I felt very similar to when I read The Museum of Extraordinary Things, also by Hoffman. About that I said, “I found myself puzzled. In theory, it was exactly the sort of story I like to read and all the elements seemed to be there. I just didn’t finish and think, “I need to tell someone about this” and I can’t quite work out why.” Yep, same thing here. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that although a pleasant enough read, Hoffman is perhaps not the author for me.

Rating: 3/5

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