Book Review: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Two Stars)

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Book Review: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow

(Two Stars)

“In grad school, they called it “ensuring readers have access to texts/materials that are engaging and emotionally rewarding,” and in my other kind of schooling, they called it ‘divining the unfilled spaces in their souls and filling them with stories and starshine,’ but it comes to the same thing.”

Wanted to like this, but couldn’t get past the self-satisfied hubris of the protagonist. She seems to feel that having a heart makes up for having no brains. Expect great writing from Harrow someday. This is well-written, but as subtle as a ton of bricks.

“I teetered, the way you do when you’re about to do something really dumb.”

Not only does she violate the norms of society, but breaks the rules of her witches group. Surely they have people and procedures for identifying and shepherding candidates, other than giving them a gun and hoping they didn’t shoot themselves with it? She endangers a youth just to feel good?

“If you want justice and goodness to prevail in this world, you have to fight for it tooth and nail. And it will be hard, and costly, and probably illegal. You will have to break rules.”

Excellent narrative voice and characterization. Too obviously correct cultural cues. Right-thinking readers will applaud her heavy-handed politics. Readers who think for themselves may be offended that Harrow insists on thinking for them. Not to mention her ‘winning is all that matters’ attitude.

“I wondered … how rogue librarians spent their time, and whether they had clubs or societies, and what it was like to encounter feral stories untamed by narrative and unbound by books. Then I wondered where our Books came from in the first place, and who wrote them.”

(2019 Short Story Hugo Award finalist; published in Apex Magazine, February 2018)

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