The beloved, bestselling author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure is back with her most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women navigating the glitz and grotesqueries of Gilded-Age New York by any means possible, including witchcraft...
The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (Moth from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it's finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and gardien de sorts (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan's high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions--and in guarding the secrets of their clients. All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment.
Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor's apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches' tug-of-war over what's best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.
As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they're confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?
AMI McKAY's debut novel, The Birth House, was a #1 bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA Libris Awards, nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a finalist for Canada Reads and a book-club favourite around the world. Her second novel, The Virgin Cure, also a national bestseller and a Best Book pick across numerous lists, was inspired by the life of her great-great grandmother, Dr. Sarah Fonda Mackintosh, a female physician in nineteenth-century New York. Born and raised in Indiana, McKay now lives in Nova Scotia. The author lives in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia.
Shortlisted for the 2017 Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award
Shortlisted for the 2017 Sunburst Award in Adult Fiction
“[A] magical little book. . . . Witches may be McKay’s best effort yet in the way it combines humour, the occult and history into a fascinating and fun novel of women supporting each other.” —The Vancouver Sun
“Those who have been waiting for this new novel, rejoice—it’s another fabulous story by the author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure. . . . McKay is a consummate storyteller, whose love of meticulous historical research is evident through the novel. She spent hours—days—in the city’s historical society archives, finding troves of inspirational treasure for her story, and consulted with local herbalists to get the meaning of Eleanor’s herbs correct throughout the story. The accompanying artwork, both on the covers and within the novel itself, featuring all kinds of ephemera (real and created) from the era, is beautifully created by Kelly Hill, who has worked with McKay on both previous novels. This novel goes further into the world of magic—the unexplained, the supernatural—than her previous novels, but this change in style works beautifully. . . . McKay should definitely be proud of the gifts she has, and the gift she has given her readers.” —Local Xpress
“Widely considered part of the A-list of contemporary writers, McKay has created and occupied a vital territory in Canadian letters, with scrupulously researched historical fiction foregrounding female characters and lives against traditionally masculine settings and milieus. It is an approach that has earned her novels prizes, international publication and a place at the top of the bestseller lists. That would be an impressive feat for any writer; the fact that McKay has managed to do it with only two novels is a powerful testimony both to the force of her vision and the quality of her writing. . . . The Witches of New York . . . fully embraces the fantastic side of McKay’s imagination. . . . For all its ideas, its imperatives, The Witches of New York is a keenly pleasurable reading experience, and over all too soon. One cannot help but want to spend more time in the company of these witches.” —Robert J. Wiersema, author of Bedtime Story, National Post
“Told through McKay’s signature combination of prose, period advertisements, newspaper clippings and other ephemera, her third novel offers both a compelling, fast-paced story and a peek into New York of the late 1800s.” —Canadian Living
“[The] overlap of realism and magic is the book’s charm. . . . The Witches of New York is carefully researched, and its interspersing of historical accounts gives it a gently archival feel. Descriptions of period dress are loving . . . and society types straight out of Edith Wharton pursue spiritualism for fun. Sticking to fizz would be easy, but McKay widens her scope with grimier episodes. . . . She has a nose for the Dickensian. . . . [T]he trapped ghosts of ‘scrubber girls’ killed in . . . [a] fire at the Fifth Avenue Hotel are heartbreaking and genuinely eerie. The author is at her best when tying the unearthly to the ground. . . . McKay is a fine plotter. . . . [N]ow, when governments and religions still have a tight grip on reproduction, and Trumpian misogyny has been grimly spotlit, McKay’s work takes on pointed meaning. Her women go calmly about their business in a hostile world, circumventing the system wherever they can, getting up every time they’re knocked down. Abracadabra: this is their real magic.” —Alix Hawley, author of All True Not a Lie in It, The Globe and Mail
“The Witches of New York [is] an ‘enchanting’ read that’ll leave you horrified. Fans of Victorian fiction will enjoy this outing. All of tropes of the time are present here: the glamour of the Gilded Age, the tragedy of prostitutes and Fallen Women, the suffering of the toiling lower classes, the growing power of the suffragettes and the ever-present spectres of ghosts, angels and demons. The book is richly researched, and packed with enticing historical detail. McKay’s prose is, as always, superb—the descriptions enchanting, the narrative arcs compelling, the characters dear (or deliciously sinister, as the case may be). But it is the emotion of the novel that lingers longest, the pervading horror over the persecution of women—and what this persecution has done to repress women’s talents, impede their progress and stamp out their voices.” —Toronto Star
“McKay has done her research, weaving in fascinating medical, historical and society tidbits from the era.” —CBC
“This might only be Ami McKay’s third novel, but she has already become one of the country’s most beloved storytellers.” —The Globe and Mail
“Step into an exciting and spellbinding world, brought to us by the soaring imagination of Ami McKay . . . a celebrated purveyor of intrigue, dark arts and fascinating fragments of real history. . . . [A] dark, atmospheric tale. . . . McKay’s seductive novel unfurls slowly amidst a miasma of menace, mischief, mystery and mesmerising magic. . . . This a clever, compelling story of determined, independent women fighting for a place in a man’s world of chauvinism, oppression and prejudice. . . . Using the atmospheric backdrop of New York City on the cusp of monumental change and packed with the wisdom of the ages and the authority of an author with a resonant message, this is a rich, chilling and thrilling story.” —Lancashire Evening Post
“[W]hat really stood out was the amount of research McKay did. It’s something that shows particularly strongly in the strength of the link she makes between accusations of witchcraft, and their associated punishments, and a deeply ingrained, often religiously driven, sexism. . . . The Witches of New York is a compelling, fast-paced read, with much more to say than one might expect. Benefiting from research aplenty from author Ami McKay, a Victorian New York City really does come alive within its pages. . . . It’s about more than just witchcraft, and I’d urge even the most skeptical amongst you to ignore the advice of the advertisement that caught Beatrice’s eye—those averse to magic might well want to apply!” —The Australian Review
“Ami McKay is an amazing writer. . . . McKay is at her best when subtly describing the constant barrage of discrimination that these women face. . . . I found myself wishing I could step right into [the characters’] tea shop to have a nice conversation with them. . . . The plotting is also masterful in this book. . . . [T]he minor characters introduced along the way serve to keep the plot moving and never muddle the forward-motion of the narrative. . . . I can see why McKay’s books appeal to many people, there seems to be a character for everyone to identify with. . . . This is literally the perfect book to curl up with on October 31.” —Anne Logan, I’ve Read This (Blog)
“[McKay’s] most beguiling novel yet, luring us deep inside the lives of a trio of remarkable young women. . . . Witches, ghost[s], women’s rights, 1880’s New York, what is not to love[?] . . . The mood of the story is marvelous. . . . A perfect book for reading tucked under a fluffy blanket on a cool fall night. . . . The heroines are marvelous. Likable, flawed and I felt a real connection to them. . . . Her writing is absolutely exquisite and haunting. I felt transported right into the time. . . . Just an exquisitely written tale that you can lose yourself in. . . . I wanted more . . . if [McKay] doesn’t [write a sequel] I may be disappointed.” —Jennifer Rayment, Misbehavin’ Librarian (Blog) (4 out of 5 Deweys)
“I loved the atmosphere of this book. McKay does an incredible job of evoking this time and place with something extra. Her cast of characters, the history infused into this book give the whole thing an ethereal quality that had me looking around wondering if spirits were near.” —Eva Phillipson, The Paperback Princess (Blog)