Hi everyone! Today, I’m reviewing Toil and Trouble, a collection of witchy stories! I started reading this in October but didn’t get it finished before the end of the month. But better late than never, right?!
What the book is about…
History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.
Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.
A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.
From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored…
What I thought of it…
This was a really great anthology of witchy stories and just what I was looking for recently. As with all anthologies, there were some stories I enjoyed less than others so read on for some thoughts on each one!
Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia – 3.5 stars
I can’t deny that I was initially confused by this one but I soon got into it and enjoyed it. Luna’s old and new selves felt a little jarring and disconnected, which I thought was appropriate as she was trying to reconcile who she used to be with who she is now. This was a cute story overall, even if I did feel like the romance happened a little quickly (maybe I’m just a cynic haha). But I loved the idea of Luna’s very specific and unusual kind of magic, and how she used it.
Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer – 4 stars
I really liked the way this was written, with the trial excerpts interspersed throughout. It was a really interesting take on a sad phenomenon that unfortunately women have to go through too often. I seem to be in the minority with my enjoyment of this one but it appealed to my newfound love of historical fiction.
The Heart in her Hands by Tess Sharpe – 5 stars
Not only does this feature foodie magic which is my absolute favourite kind, it’s also about forging your own path and not letting yourself be put into a box or defined by ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ or what other people want for you. It was so empowering. And the f/f romance was the best. The writing also felt reminiscent of Leigh Bardugo so that should be enough to tell you why I loved it!
Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith – 3 stars
I struggled slightly with this story as it was quite a bit darker in tone and it almost felt like I was jumping into a world that had already been fully established? There was so much going on and I felt like I really had to concentrate to follow things. A lot of the talk of bullying also made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I just didn’t enjoy this one as much.
The Truth about Queenie by Brandy Colbert – 3 stars
I didn’t really connect with this one the way I hoped I would. I was enjoying it at first but it didn’t really go anywhere, and the whole thing had a pretty miserable vibe to it. I did appreciate the themes the author tried to tackle, I just didn’t love the way it was done.
The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar – 3 stars
At first, I was absolutely living for this. The purple prose was divine and I loved the theatre vibes and the inclusion of a disabled character. However, things took a very strange turn and there were weird shifts in time that jarred me out of the story and confused me.
The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley – 4 stars
This one vaguely reminded me of The Secret Life of Bees, with all it’s talk of ancestry and knowing where you come from. I really liked the concept and the way it read like a contemporary but also incorporated historical elements.
The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma – 4 stars
Guys, this was DARK. It was so powerfully feminist but not really very witchy? I feel like the story deserves 5 stars for the themes alone, it just didn’t feel like a 5-star read to me? I know I’m in the minority with this and I honestly do feel bad, but there was just something missing for me that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Divine are the Stars by Zoraida Córdova – 4 stars
I loved the magical realism here. I’ve never read about bruja so it was nice to get a different cultural perspective on witchcraft than the ones I’m used to. Córdova’s writing was gorgeous and I’d love to try some of her full-length novels.
Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff – 3 stars
This one felt unfinished to me; it was like it just kind of dwindled to nothing? I wanted more. I feel like this story tried to tackle quite a few different issues and it was maybe too much, as there was no real resolution. And it was very angry! I did like the start though.
The Well Witch by Kate Hart – 4 stars
This was a cool Western-style story; this is a not a genre I’ve ever experienced and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I really liked the main character, Elsa (even before being told that she arranged her books in a rainbow!) This story went in a devastating direction and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it; I was on the way to giving a 5-star rating but I had to drop it a little as I didn’t fully approve of where things went.
Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood – 3 stars
So many of these stories felt unfinished to me?! I needed more answers from this one. I also couldn’t tell what time period this was meant to be set in; at times, it read like a contemporary but at other times it had a historical fiction vibe? It’s like it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. I did like the elemental magic, I just wanted more from this story.
Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore – 5 stars
This was gorgeous! I’ve always had a feeling I would love Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing and I was completely right. I definitely need to get my hands on her full-length novels. This was just deliciously romantic and magical.
The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord – 5 stars
This was a really nice story of sisterly love and recovering from emotional abuse. At times, I forgot that I was reading a story in a witchy anthology because the magical elements were so effortlessly incorporated into the plot. Based on this story, I will definitely be picking up more from Emery Lord!
Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May – 5 stars
This story made the entire anthology. It deserves all the stars in the universe. It was so powerfully feminist and utterly devastating; it reads like a call to arms, like the whole #metoo movement in story form. Every line was perfection. Please give me everything this author has ever written.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this collection. There was a run of average-feeling stories that I didn’t quite connect with but the better ones I really loved. And I’m delighted that I didn’t rate any of the stories in this collection below 3 stars! That so rarely happens with an anthology.
If you’ve read this one, what was your favourite story? What are some other witchy books you’ve enjoyed? Do you read many anthologies? Leave me a comment below! x