A book list by Onset & Rime.
In honour of our new candle collection inspired by literary witches, we put together a list of witchy reads. Witches who are powerful, independent, and often persecuted for simply existing in worlds that are hostile to women holding power. This list includes a variety of witches and femme magic wielders.
A Note: Content warnings have been provided where appropriate. Highlight the "invisible" text beside the content warning label to see. Content warnings are not value statements about the books or judgements about the inclusion of any particular content. They are there to give you a heads up on what to be prepared for so you can choose if and/or when a book is right for you.
1) CIRCE by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller’s Circe is a retelling of the Greek myths involving Circe, who is often considered the first witch in Greek mythology. This retelling inspired us to create a candle for Circe. With scent notes of salt water, cypress, lemon, and fig, it recalls the island setting where Circe hones her powers and builds herself a home.
From the publisher: “In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--neither powerful like her father nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power: the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts, and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from or with the mortals she has come to love.”
Genre(s): historical fiction, mythology, fantasy
Content Warnings: rape, abuse, suicidal ideation, graphic childbirth, misogyny/sexism
2) GOOD OMENS by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Anathema Device, witchy descendant of Agnes Nutter, was the inspiration for our Anathema candle. Armed with her good sense and her ancestress’s prophecies she’s on a mission to thwart Doomsday. Her candle, with its calming, earthy notes of pineapple sage, patchouli, and sandalwood, should keep anyone calm – especially if they’re up against the end of the world!
From the publisher: “There is a distinct hint of Armageddon in the air. According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded, thankfully, in 1655, before she blew up her entire village and all its inhabitants, who had gathered to watch her burn), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse are revving up their mighty hogs and hitting the road, and the world's last two remaining witch-finders are getting ready to fight the good fight, armed with awkwardly antiquated instructions and stick pins. Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring… Right. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan.
Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon – each of whom has lived among Earth's mortals for many millennia and has grown rather fond of the lifestyle – are not particularly looking forward to the coming Rapture. If Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop it from happening, they've got to find and kill the Antichrist (which is a shame, as he's a really nice kid). There's just one glitch: someone seems to have misplaced him…”
Genre(s): fantasy, humor
Content Warnings: racism, homophobia, eating disorder, fatphobia
3) THE WINTERNIGHT TRILOGY by Katherine Arden
Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy is a historical fantasy series that is inspired by Russian folklore. It consists of The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, and The Winter of the Witch. This trilogy, along with its Russian folklore influences, inspired the creation of our Baba Yaga candle. With warm notes of myrrh, spices, and smoke, it is a foil against the cold, harsh winters described in these tales.
From the publisher (for The Bear and the Nightingale, Book 1): "Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.
Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.
But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales."
Genre(s): fantasy, folklore, historical fiction
Content Warnings: misogyny, religious bigotry/persecution, rape/sexual assault, abuse
4) HIS DARK MATERIALS by Philip Pullman
These stories, featuring resourceful children, armoured bears, magical devices, daemons, and witches, Inspired our Serafina Pekkala candle. Named for the Queen of the Lake Enara clan of witches, it has notes of cloud pine, geranium, neroli, and crisp arctic air. A cool, woodsy floral blend that represents this courageous witch and her beloved northern home.
From the publisher: “These thrilling adventures tell the story of Lyra and Will—two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them.”
Genre(s): sci-fi/fantasy, children/young adult
Content Warnings: child abuse, torture
5) BRUJAS: THE MAGIC AND POWER OF WITCHES OF COLOR by Lorraine Monteagut
From the publisher: “There is a new kind of witch emerging in our cultural consciousness: the bruja. Witchcraft has made a comeback in popular culture, especially among feminists. A growing subculture of BIPOC witches, led by Afro-Caribbean immigrants, Indigenous Americans, and other witches of color, is reclaiming their ancestral traditions and contributing their voices to the feminist witchcraft of today. Brujas chronicles the magical lives of these practitioners as they develop their healing arts, express their progressive politics, and extend their personal rituals into community activism.
They are destigmatizing the “witch” of their ancestries and bringing persecuted traditions to the open to challenge cultural appropriation and spiritual consumerism. Part memoir, part ritual guide, Brujas empowers readers to decolonize their spiritual practices and connect with their own ancestors.”
Genre(s): nonfiction, culture, spirituality
Content Warnings: sexual assault
6) HEX by Jenni Fagan
From the publisher: “A witch will die here in the morning. It is the 4th of December 1591. On this, the last night of her life in a prison cell several floors below Edinburgh’s High Street, convicted witch Geillis Duncan receives a mysterious visitor – Iris, who says she comes from a future where women are still killed for who they are and what they believe. As the hours pass and dawn approaches, Geillis recounts the circumstances of her arrest, brutal torture, confession and trial, while Iris offers support, solace – and the tantalising prospect of escape.”
Genre(s): historical fiction, novella
Content Warnings: torture, sexual assault, misogyny/sexism
7) IN THE SHADOW GARDEN by Liz Parker
From the publisher: “There's something magical about Yarrow, Kentucky. The three empathic witches of the Haywood family are known for their shadow garden—from strawberries that taste like chocolate to cherry tomatoes with hints of basil and oregano. Their magic can cure any heartache, and the fruits of their garden bring a special quality to the local bourbon distillery. On one day every year, a shot of Bonner bourbon will make your worst memory disappear.
But twenty years ago, the town gave up more than one memory for the year; they forgot an entire summer. One person died. One person disappeared. And no one has any idea why.
As secrets from that fateful summer start to come to light, there must be a reckoning between the rival Haywood and Bonner families. But the only clue Irene Haywood has is in her tea leaves: a stranger’s arrival will bring either love or betrayal…”
Genre(s): fantasy, contemporary fiction, mystery, romance
Content Warnings: domestic abuse
8) MOONCAKES by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
From the publisher: “Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers' bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.
One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.
Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.”
Genre(s): graphic novel, fantasy
Content Warnings: abuse by parental figures (mentioned)
9) WE RIDE UPON STICKS by Quan Barry
From the publisher: “Set in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts (which in 1692 was Salem Village, site of the origins of the Salem Witch Trials), the story follows the Danvers High field hockey team as they discover that the dark impulses of their Salem forebears may be the key to a winning season.
The 1989 Danvers Falcons are on an unaccountable winning streak. Quan Barry weaves together the individual and collective journeys of this enchanted team as they storm their way to the state championship. Helmed by good-girl captain Abby Putnam (a descendant of the infamous Salem accuser Ann Putnam) and her co-captain Jen Fiorenza, whose bleached blond "Claw" sees and knows all, the DHS Falcons prove to be as wily and original as their North of Boston ancestors, flaunting society's stale notions of femininity in order to find their glorious true selves through the crucible of team sport.”
Genre(s): historical fiction, fantasy, coming-of-age
Content Warnings: statutory rape, homophobia, racism
10) BLOOD LIKE MAGIC by Liselle Sambury
From the publisher: “After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.
Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?
With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.”
This is the first book in a duology. The sequel is called Blood Like Fate.
Genre(s): fantasy, young adult, sci-fi
Content Warnings: slavery, racism, eating disorder
11) THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson
From the publisher: “In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.”
Genre(s): horror, fantasy
Content Warnings: religious bigotry, racism, misogyny, sexual assault, pedophilia, recounted statutory rape, torture
12) CACKLE by Rachel Harrison
From the publisher: “All her life, Annie has played it nice and safe. After being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Annie seeks a fresh start. She accepts a teaching position that moves her from Manhattan to a small village upstate. She's stunned by how perfect and picturesque the town is. The people are all friendly and warm. Her new apartment is dreamy too, minus the oddly persistent spider infestation.
Then Annie meets Sophie. Beautiful, charming, magnetic Sophie, who takes a special interest in Annie, who wants to be her friend. More importantly, she wants Annie to stop apologizing and start living for herself. That's how Sophie lives. Annie can't help but gravitate toward the self-possessed Sophie, wanting to spend more and more time with her, despite the fact that the rest of the townsfolk seem...a little afraid of her. And like, okay. There are some things. Sophie's appearance is uncanny and ageless, her mansion in the middle of the woods feels a little unearthly, and she does seem to wield a certain power...but she couldn't be...could she?”
Genre(s): fantasy, dark humour, horror
Content Warnings: toxic/abusive relationship
13) THE INHERITANCE OF ORQUIDEA DIVINA by Zoraida Cordova
From the publisher: “The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.”
Genre(s): fantasy, contemporary fiction
Content Warnings: parental neglect/abuse, racism