The Book of Magic
Readers, what do you do when a series comes to an end? How do you feel? Where do you turn next in the altered literary landscape? Sometimes the end of a series is highly publicized, a set of books always fated to end with a certain number (and sometimes those authors admittedly go on to publish related plays and stories and...) Others end abruptly, unexpectedly, perhaps because the author abandoned them, perhaps because the author died. And then there are those like Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic series: a stand alone novel gets two stunning follow-ups a quarter of a century later and then a fourth book appears with the immediate introduction that it is the final book in the sudden series. Here, this story will end (if it can be said that stories ever end).
The 2022 publication of The Book of Magic marks the conclusion to the Owens family story that began with Practical Magic more than twenty five years ago. The initial story, which became a well known feature film, is that of the vastly different sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, who inherit a legacy of magic when they go to live with their aunts in Massachusetts after being orphaned as children. Though the novel has remained popular over the years, it appeared Hoffman had just one story here to tell of the family until The Rules of Magic appeared in 2017 to impart the narrative of Sally and Gillian's bewitching aunts (and their enigmatic brother Vincent) in 1960s New York. Going back further still, Hoffman produced Magic Lessons last year, the true origin story that goes back centuries to the Salem witch trials and shows the root of the familial curse that plagues the Owens family throughout the series. Yet if it was now starting to seem like Hoffman had endless tales of the Owens to convey, she dispelled that notion when The Book of Magic was announced as the final installment in the saga.
Fittingly, The Book of Magic brings the generations of the Owens family together to conclude their stories, placing Sally's children as central to the narrative but playing out developments and closure for Sally, Gillian, and their aunts and uncle as well. The aforementioned curse condemns members of the Owen clan to never be happy in love, leaving a chain of fatalities throughout the novels every time one of them tries to defy it and have a relationship regardless. Sally's daughter Kylie is the latest to suffer from the curse, and when she takes off and out of the country and onto paths of dark magic in an attempt to find the answers that will save her love, her family follows her. Why? Because the one kind of love as profoundly central to Hoffman's work as romantic love is familial love. As all of the Owens women seem to realize, "When you have a sister, someone knows the story of who you were and who you would always be." The bond, often strained, between mothers and daughters receives similar attention throughout the books.
As the novel unfolds, this theme of love persists, but in addition to being a love letter to families (particularly to sibling bonds) and celebration of passionate and sincere romance, The Book of Magic serves as a love letter to books and libraries. It begins thus: "Some stories begin at the beginning and others begin at the end, but all the best stories begin in a library," which this one then of course proceeds to do (with the twist that the original novel's beloved Sally has since graduated with her Master's degree in Library Science from my own alma mater Simmons University). Hoffman honors the importance of words, the places that house them, and the people who craft them throughout her oeuvre.
Hoffman's particular art as a novelist is to let the parallelism of different kinds of enchantments run like a bloodstream through her work: the enchantments of love, books, and the natural world coursing alongside the more direct enchantments of magic (and conveyed, of course, through the enchantment of language). Interestingly, then, the potential stylistic flaw of Hoffman's writing becomes a kind of strength throughout the book. The words and ideas of The Book of Magic get repetitive at times in a way that may irk many readers, yet this repetitiousness also comes to feel like a sort of spell, an incantation, as though Hoffman is casting a masterly writer's charm across her pages and into her readers' hearts and minds.
While the Book of Magic, in its sense as of a long story weaving together, may not serve well as a standalone novel and will likely find its place with fans of the series, if Hoffman's bewitching abilities seem they might work on you, use the links throughout the post to request each of the books and delve in! The beauty of a story that "ends" is that it can still find new readers.