ARC Review: Toil & Trouble (edited) by Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & WitchcraftToil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft by Tess Sharpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Release date: August 28, 2018

A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

Warnings: mentions of rape (implied), death of animal companion, mention of domestic abuse, violence, mentions of burnings

This anthology of tales of teenage witches is a powerful response to the continuing hatred against the voice of women. The major theme of the novel is about witches, obviously, and the stories are in various settings – historical, fantasy, contemporary – with a lot of them being about the oppression girls and women have had to face. The girls who the stories are about are also varied – there are witches of color, queer witches (a lot of them!), witches who heal, witches whose powers are considered evil, victims who are witches, witches who avenge, and more. Some of the stories are fluffy, some are dark, some are confusing, and some are downright poetic.

One of my favorites was The Heart in her Hands , by Tess Sharpe, which does a brilliant subversion of the soulmate trope in a witch society. Also, it shows that the power of death is not necessarily an evil thing. Another story with a necromantic witch that I liked was Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith, which goes a little grimdark and has a witch who has to contend with her research on death magic being abused. The stories about avenging sort of witches are The One who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma, which while not having a lot of plot does have a chilling sort of story involving victims; Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff, which has a witch who brings down bullies in her high school – the manner is a little grey on the morals.

Elizabeth May’s Why They Burn Us delivers a story about women fighting back an oppressive society that wants to keep them down, that doesn’t allow them to be intelligent beings, and a similar theme is in Andrea Creamer’s Afterbirth. The themes of discovering yourself and not fearing your powers are in The Truth about Queenie. There are two stories involving a trio of sister witches – one with a good relationship, like in Emery Lord’s The Gherin Girls, and the other in which fear drives them apart, Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood. Anna Marie McLemore’s Love Spell has a cute story about religion and witchcraft, and has a lovesickness witch in love with a trans boy church acolyte (I was happy the story didn’t have transmisia).

Some of the stories will enrage you, some will inspire you, some with soothe you, and some will make you collapse with adoration. A lot of the stories make a good effort to be diverse, which is what makes this anthology all the more enriched. There are some stories that felt incomplete, and some that confused me with what they were going for, but most of them are stellar pieces of fiction that explore different cultures, and are united by the common theme of the power of women.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Harlequin Teen, via Netgalley.

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One thought on “ARC Review: Toil & Trouble (edited) by Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

  1. It sounds like this is a great anthology of witchy stories! I love that there is a diverse range of witches so that it mixes things up and has good representation! And it sounds like the aim of all the stories changes and differs as well, giving you a wide range of emotions in response to reading. I don’t read too many witch reads but I would like to read more ^.^

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