The Witches of New York is a fast-paced, well-written novel that gives the reader a glimpse into the life of New York City women in 1880. New York City still had farmland surrounding it; women had not earned the right to vote yet and very few owned their own business; the entire statue of liberty had not yet arrived; the Brooklyn Bridge was still being constructed.
Ami McKay has created well-developed characters that are realistic, unique, and loveable. Each character, whether a main character or a secondary character, is expressed in a way that readers can clearly see their individual personalities and back stories. McKay’s scene are easy to visualize and beckon readers to stay awhile. I could almost smell the orange pekoe and hibiscus tea at Tea & Sympathy, or see the lavishness of the Fifth Ave Hotel’s leather chairs and dark wood detailing, or feel the chill and sense of abandonment at Blackwell’s Asylum.
Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair run Tea & Sympathy, a quaint shop near Madison Square in which they serve tea and desserts to New York’s high society, as well as herbal remedies to a variety of aliments, like anxiety and unwanted pregnancies. It is also home to Eleanor’s talking pet raven, Perdu (trust me, you will wish you had Perdu for yourself). A combination of age and physical disabilities, Adelaide puts an ad in the paper for a position at Tea & Sympathy. Beatrice Dunn, a young girl in rural Stony Point, sees the ad and takes advantage of the opportunity to experience NYC and venture out into the world on her own. Fate seems to guide the girl right to the step in front of Tea & Sympathy, where she gets the job. It does not take long for the trio to realize that they are destined to be together – Beatrice realizes that she can see dead people as clear as a live one, Eleanor is skilled in herbs and spells, Adelaide can read people and has a flare for dramatics.
While the ladies develop their strong bond and maintain a safe place for New York’s high society ladies, Reverend Townsend stokes the embers of fear of witchcraft that takes ahold of the area. He embarks on a campaign of kidnapping, torturing, and killing young ladies he deems as followers of dark magic – suffragette, prostitutes, uneducated, witches. When Beatrice goes missing, during a scientific demonstration proving ghosts exist conducted by Dr. Brody, the ladies and Dr. Brody frantically search the city for any sign of her. Little do they know that Beatrice is experiencing first hand just how the Reverend feels about witches. But it may be her abilities as a young witch that actually save her!
If you are looking for a creative historical book that explores women’s issues during the 1880’s, then this is your book!
My only hope is that Ami McKay publishes a follow-up novel about what Adelaide, Eleanor, Perdu, Beatrice, and Dr. Brody are up to next. Until then, I’ll just have to reread The Witches of New York and stalk McKay’s social media to find out when another book will come out!