I bought Ami McKay’s The Witches of New York for my sister-in-law, K., when she requested a ‘magic’ book about ‘witches’ for her birthday (both a specific request and an excellent one)*. The jacket promised great things: 19th century New York, three strong, independent women as protagonists, magic and ghosts and self-declared witches. I was so excited when I got it for K. that I requested it for myself at the library.
Thrilled when it arrived, I began it immediately. Alas. It was… not very engaging. Oh sure it was atmospheric. Sort of in the same way The Night Circus has an intense setting, but also in the way The Night Circus fails to do anything else well. Okay, that’s not true. This one has skillful writing to be admired in both scene setting and character sketching. But it doesn’t have a hook of any sort. Pages and chapters go by and this reader kept waiting for the book to start.
Waiting even while our protagonist, Beatrice, has made her way to New York and begun her training under the withces at the tea shop (their names escape me). And ghosts have begun to appear. Strange happenings abound. But whether I wasn’t offered sufficient reason to care about Beatrice or the witches, or the events themselves weren’t properly captivating, I found myself unengaged and uninvested.
And that’s when I stopped. Usually I give myself fifty pages. Here I’d given it a hundred, but what really stopped me was the feeling that I’d really rather be scrolling through the bleak world news on twitter, or reading another article about the white house in chaos on the NYT. And I don’t actually want to be reading either of those things (okay, I guess I want the news to be different, and failing that, to only have to read it/listen to it once a day). I want to be reading novels. For all sorts of reasons. And sure, one of those reasons is to escape the world-on-fire news by slipping in to 1880 witch-town New York. And when that world sucks, too, it’s time to stop reading and start something else.
*I requested from her a literary thriller and she got me the Nick Mason book, so she did far better than me at the reading gift challenge.