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  • Writer's pictureStephanie M. Wytovich

Tea, Sympathy, and The Witches of New York

"Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply.” –The Witches of New York, Ami McKay

One book that I had on my TBR list for far too long was The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. I made this one a priority last month and it’s a good thing I did because not only did I absolutely love the magic of this book, but I’ll now also pick up whatever McKay writes.

The characters of Adelaide Thom, Eleanor St. Clair, and Beatrice Dunn not only quickly captured my heart, but my interest, too. These women—these witches—each went on a journey of acceptance and desire within these pages whether it was in regard to their strength, compassion, or their magic. Set in 1880 at the height of the spiritualist movement, their shop—Tea and Sympathy—saw it all: harassment, ghosts, fortune telling, and the lustful dangers of a strong cup of hibiscus tea. With themes of dream work, sexuality, faith, and feminism, McKay wove a story together that was reminiscent of a more modern-ish burning times as the hunt for witches, i.e. evil women continued throughout the streets of New York.

Something that I particularly loved here was the message of perseverance that came from each of these women. Adelaide Thom deals with a disfigurement early on in the book and instead of cowering and hiding herself away, she wears it with pride and accepts the gifts it bestows upon her; Eleanor St. Clair deals with heartbreak and betrayal, yet still learns the meaning of love and compassion while refusing to hide her sexuality and desires; and Beatrice Dunn, an amateur witch, learns about the power growing within her and the dangers of possessing it.

Like all good witch stories, there is strength, community, and a fierce desire to survive within these pages, yet McKay’s prose is poetic, soft, almost like the steam from a freshly poured cup of tea. I loved the gentleness to her style, even when it was full of bite, and the spells and recipes and ambiance of the book and its setting made me feel like I was often a patron in their store browsing through herbs and elixirs and hearing stories about devils and demons.

If you’re interested in feminism, witchcraft, and the allure of magic, often with a historical bent, this is a book for you.

I give this book 5/5 witch's ladders.

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