Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Gothic, historical fiction, paranormal
Published by Graydon House on February 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Two women. A history of witchcraft. And a deep-rooted female power that sings across the centuries.
Once there was a young woman from a well-to-do New England family who never quite fit with the drawing rooms and parlors of her kin.
Called instead to the tangled woods and wild cliffs surrounding her family’s estate, Margaret Harlowe grew both stranger and more beautiful as she cultivated her uncanny power. Soon, whispers of “witch” dogged her footsteps, and Margaret’s power began to wind itself with the tendrils of something darker.
One hundred and fifty years later, Augusta Podos takes a dream job at Harlowe House, the historic home of a wealthy New England family that has been turned into a small museum in Tynemouth, Massachusetts. When Augusta stumbles across an oblique reference to a daughter of the Harlowes who has nearly been expunged from the historical record, the mystery is too intriguing to ignore.
But as she digs deeper, something sinister unfurls from its sleep, a dark power that binds one woman to the other across lines of blood and time. If Augusta can’t resist its allure, everything she knows and loves—including her very life—could be lost forever.
A Lullaby for Witches is a time slip story whose 21st century anchor is a woman who time slips for a living. Or at least that’s what she set out to do when she graduated college – and probably a master’s program – with a degree in museum and archival studies.
As the story begins, Augusta Podos is working in her field – sorta/kinda – in a dead end job as a tour guide and “interpreter” at the historical Salem, Massachusetts jail. She spends entirely too much of her work time dealing with disgruntled tourists who neglected to read the brochure and are unhappy that the infamous Salem witches were never housed in that jail – BECAUSE THE JAIL WAS BUILT MORE THAN A CENTURY AFTER THE WITCH TRIALS!
She’s also in a dead end relationship with a guy who may be financially stable – but is also emotionally unavailable and manipulative. Someone who has spent the four years of their relationship isolating Augusta from her friends, and who Augusta has spent the same four years making excuses for – over and over and over.
The “dream” job at Harlowe House – an amazing well funded private house museum – knocks Augusta out of her rut in more ways than one. She suddenly has a job she loves, with people who appreciate her, she makes enough money and has enough benefits that she can afford to strike out on her own if she can muster up the fortitude AND she has the chance to stretch her professional wings and use all of her skills and talents.
Augusta is also more than a bit obsessed by the resident ghost of Harlowe House, the mysterious and possibly even apocryphal Margaret Harlowe. Who may have lived a couple of centuries AFTER the witch trials, but who was still, most definitely, a witch.
A witch who has found in Augusta a woman she can use. Augusta believes that Margaret just wants to get her story finally told. Margaret, however, plans to use Augusta to finally get for herself that dish that is best served cold. In Margaret’s case, as cold as the grave.
Escape Rating B: I wanted to start out by repeating the old quote about the more things change, the more they remain the same, but that’s not quite right. And it’s not that history repeats, because that’s not exactly what’s happening here either.
A Lullaby for Witches feels like it’s a story about blame. Or shame, or responsibility, or all of the above. Augusta Podos, the contemporary heroine of this witch’s brew, is a woman who always takes the blame for everything that goes wrong – whether she’s at fault or not. Usually not. She spends her mental energy making excuses for everyone around her and making herself smaller at every turn.
Margaret Harlowe, who anchors the 19th century parts of this hidden history, is Augusta’s opposite. Margaret always was a woman who took up as much space, with expansive gestures, outrageous behavior and mysterious doings, as possible. Also, Margaret never accepts the blame or the responsibility for anything that happens around her, not even – or perhaps especially not – the trouble that she causes and is absolutely responsible for.
To the point where her need for revenge against those she believes have wronged her – no matter how much she may have wronged them first or equally or in return – keeps her spirit from finding rest. Margaret has spent the century and a half of her “afterlife” waiting for a woman of her bloodline to let her live again.
Whether that woman is willing or not.
So, on one side of this story, we watch Augusta finally break out of her self-imposed imprisonment and start to take charge of her own life. And on the other side (pun intended) we see the past from Margaret’s self-aggrandizing and self-justifying perspective – and we observe her start moving Augusta like a pawn on her own personal chessboard.
This ends up being kind of a mixed feelings review. I appreciated Augusta’s journey – but her relationships with her manipulative, isolating ex hit a bit too close to home. I loved her raptures about her new job at Harlowe House, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much fantasy was involved in the creation of a small museum like that being THAT well funded. (One of my best friends is an archivist and I think she’d be laughing a lot at the setup.)
On my third hand, I enjoyed, as I generally do, the portrayal of the research and digging involved with Augusta’s search for history, and I loved the idea of showcasing the forgotten histories of the women of Harlowe.
On my fourth hand – I think I’m co-opting Augusta’s and Margaret’s hands at this point – I didn’t get into Margaret’s story at all. She’s vain, she’s shallow, she’s self-serving to the max. Admittedly, she’s also just barely 20 so her out-of-line-ness isn’t really so far out-of-line. But I found her perspective to be a bit one-note. That meant that I didn’t empathize with her at all, because when it comes to empathy there’s almost no there there.
So the story didn’t feel like it was so much about female power as it was about one woman, Augusta, finding a way to climb out of one rut after another – including one that reached out to her from the shadowy past. But I liked and felt for Augusta, so that worked out alright for this reader.