In all the years I’ve been reading, I’ve devoured many books that centered on witches and witchcraft. However, more often than not, I’ve found myself disappointed, so when I had the chance to check out a new anthology titled WICKED WITCHES from the New England Horror Writers, I went into it with some trepidation. Having grown up in New England, I’ve encountered many stories that have tried to piggyback off the Salem Witch Trials, and unfortunately most failed. Nonetheless, being familiar with some of the authors of this anthology, I had a glimmer of hope that I wouldn’t be let down… and I’m happy to report I wasn’t.
WICKED WITCHES is chock-full of historical legends and modern-day retellings of witchcraft. Each and every story has its own unique style — whether it’s poetic allegory or fictitious narrative, every author has their own voice that they use to bring their story to life. Contributing to this anthology are G.D. Dearborn, Barry Lee Dejasu, Peter N. Dudar, Jeremy Flagg, Joshua Goudreau, Catherine Grant, Jan Kozlowski, Patrick Lacey, Izzy Lee, Nick Manzolillo, John McIIveen, Paul McMahon, James A. Moore, Errick A. Nunnally, Ogmios, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Doug Rinaldi, Rob Smales, Morgan Sylvia, K.H. Vaughan, Morven Westfield and Trisha J. Wooldride. The book also includes an introduction from the one and only Penny Dreadful.
Each tale here is written with knowledge and familiarity of the Salem Witch Trials, and I do believe each author had at one point resided (or still resides) in the New England landscape. There is true talent and passion here, and as I read each story it brought me back to when I used to live in Massachusetts, not too far from Salem. I would even go so far as to say this anthology made me miss home, and those crisp fall days when I would visit Salem with my friends during the Halloween season.
What I enjoyed most about this collection is how much strength and wisdom these witches exude, and I appreciated how the authors didn’t fall back on overused tropes for the sake of a good story. They made these women nothing short of fierce, while combining their bold femininity in a way that showcases their independence. Sure, some of them are seeking out murderous revenge — but they have their reasons for doing so. In other examples, these women learn who they are for the first time, and some even use their powers for good. Instead of adopting the narrative that all witches are bad, the writers show us the other sides these women possess, and why they do the things they do.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, because each story has something distinct about it; however, looking back, there were a few that piqued my interest above others. I was incredibly drawn to John McIIven’s “In Agatha Craggins’ Defense,” which centers on a town that has shunned a woman they believe to be a witch. It’s a story that demonstrates how quick people are to judge and ridicule those who are different. Another is Paul McMahon’s “Baskets,” about a character who decides to visit his grandmother for nefarious reasons, only to learn he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. Lastly, Izzy Lee’s “Tilberian Holiday” is an incredibly powerful and intense story that centers on a woman who inherits a home at a time when she believes she has lost everything. Only when she decides to visit this home does she learn its true nature, why she has received it, and what she is meant to become.
Overall, WICKED WITCHES is the perfect anthology for those looking for more than just your average run-of-the-mill Salem witch stories. Spanning both ancient and modern times, the stories convey the rich history of witchcraft over the centuries, and I guarantee there is something for everyone in this brilliant collection. If you’re yearning for a Halloween fix, or if you just have a deep love for dark fantasy and horror, pick up a copy for yourself — it’s available now in paperback and eBook formats from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.