Title: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Edited by: Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
Type: Fiction, Anthology, Short Stories
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal, Witches
Publisher: Harlequin Teen (HarperCollins)
Published: August 28, 2018
A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.
Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.
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.
– My Review –
“Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia – ★★★★★
I’m glad that the anthology started off with “Starsong,” because it was definitely one of my favourites. I was left wishing that this short story had been a novella (or even a full length novel), because I wanted to spend more time with the characters, and wanted to see how their relationships would develop. (Urban Fantasy, Diverse, LGBTQ+)
“Afterbirth” by Andrea Cremer – ★★★★★
This one was considerably darker than the first story, but it contained a very important message about prejudice and hate against women, which is applicable not only in the past, but also the present day. “Afterbirth” really left me thinking, and I definitely had tears in my eyes when I finished reading it. (Historical, Fantasy)
“The Heart in Her Hands” by Tess Sharpe – ★★★★
The world in “The Heart in Her Hands” was intriguing, and I liked how the magic was described. I also like that a lot of details were provided about the world and characters without it feeling like an information dump. This story definitely remained a short story, and it was a fun and heart-warming read. (Urban Fantasy, Diverse, LGBTQ+)
“Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith – ★★★★★
This was another one of my favourites! At first, I wasn’t too sure about it, but then I fell in love with the world, and I could definitely see myself reading a whole novel or series about this setting alone! The plot was also very well-paced, and a fun read. (Fantasy)
“The Truth About Queenie” by Brandy Colbert – ★★★★
I really liked the start of “The Truth About Queenie,” but slowly felt my heart sink as the story continued on. It was good overall, but didn’t make it into my top five because of how it ended up making me feel. I did enjoy the writing though, and I really shipped a couple within the story! (Urban Fantasy, Diverse)
“The Moonapple Menagerie” by Shveta Thakrar – ★★★★
This one very much reminded my of Roshani Chokshi’s lush and whimsical writing style, and it also included a creature from Indian mythology (which was terrifying and interesting) which I could see Chokshi using in a story as well. I liked the writing in this one, and found the story to be quite unique! (Urban Fantasy, Diverse)
“The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley – ★★★★
“The Legend of Stone Mary” scared me a little bit more than some of the others, but in a good way! This reminded me very much (in the words of Sarah @ The Clever Reader, who I buddy read this anthology with) of a classic ghost story, and I enjoyed it quite a bit! (Urban Fantasy, Historical, Diverse, LGBTQ+)
“The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma – ★★★
This story, I think was the most feminist out of the bunch, and I like the message that it tries to get across. I, however, didn’t really enjoy the style in which it was written. I was left confused (despite really struggling to understand what I had just read), and also feel as if there had been no fantasy elements within this story at all. (Urban Fantasy)
“Divine Are the Stars” by Zoraida Córdova – ★★★★★
Luckily, this next story was another favourite of mine (if not my number one favourite from the entire anthology)! Going into this story, I was already a fan of Córdova’s work (having read Labyrinth Lost and Bruja Born by her beforehand). It was great to see a story of hers take place in another setting, and I hope to see more about the family that she wrote about in “Divine Are the Stars” in future work of hers! (Urban Fantasy)
“Daughters of Baba Yaga” by Brenna Yovanoff – ★★★★
While “Daughters of Baba Yaga” wasn’t a favourite of mine due to its overall story and feel, I find that this one really clicked with me because I’m Eastern European, and I understood that aspect of the main character’s life (particularly the culture and the type of storytelling and fairytales which influenced this short story). I found that the ending was also immensely satisfying for me! (Urban Fantasy)
“The Well Witch” by Kate Hart – ★★★★
This story stood out to me because of the atmosphere, and also because it’s the only Western-style story in this anthology. It also felt unique to me because I had never thought of a witch in a Western setting before, and because said witch was also a POC. This story made me smile (because of a couple that I shipped really hard), and it also made me mad because of what some characters did, and also because the ending could have been more satisfying. (Historical, Western, Diverse, Fantasy)
“Beware of Girls With Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood – ★★★
In my opinion, this story had a lot of potential. I just found that a lot of things were not explained, and that this story may have done better as a novella or full length novel. I did enjoy the world quite a bit (as well as the familial interactions) though, and would have liked to learn more about both. (Historical, Fantasy, Diverse, LGBTQ+)
“Love Spell” by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★★★
“Love Spell” was another one of my favourites! I really enjoyed the atmosphere in this story, as well as the writing (and the type of story that this was). I also really liked the main character, and became very invested in her tale and in hoping that she would have the most happy outcome! (I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil what happens because the plot points that I’d be spoiling are what made this story one of my favourites out of the stories in this anthology!) (Urban Fantasy, Diverse)
“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord – ★★★★
I really loved the focus on sisterly love in “The Gherin Girls.” It really reminded me of how my sister and I love and care for each other too, and just made me very happy. I also liked that even though we get perspectives from all three sisters, everything was still written in the third person. This was the longest story in the anthology, but it was still a quick and entertaining read. (Urban Fantasy, Diverse, LGBTQ+)
“Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May – ★★★★★
And finally, the last short story in Toil & Trouble, “Why They Watch Us Burn” … and wow, it really ended things with a bang. Everything in this story was so relevant for the struggles that women have to face today, and have had to face in the past as well. It also felt to me as if the things happening in this story could potentially happen in real life at some point! The magic in this story was also subtle and beautiful, and “Why They Watch Us Burn” really left an impression on me, because I closed the book and kind of stared into space for a bit, thinking about the short story, as well as the other feminist subjects touched on in the rest of Toil & Trouble. (Urban Fantasy, Diverse, LGBTQ+)
– Overall Thoughts & Rating –
I’m glad that I was really able to savour Toil & Trouble! The last time that I read anything from an anthology was while I was still in school, and I don’t think that I’ve ever read from one in my free time. I picked this one up because I’ve been really into witches and witchcraft lately, and I’m so glad that I did! I buddy read this book with a friend, and luckily we decided to start reading at the beginning of August so that we could dedicate one or two days to each story. I don’t think that I would have experienced Toil & Trouble quite the same way if I had only given myself a week or a few days to read it all, because I wouldn’t have had as much time to contemplate each story and what it meant and how it made me feel. Overall, I loved this anthology, and I hope that the editors will decide to turn it into a series of anthologies, because even after having read 500+ pages (and other books) about witches, I still haven’t had enough!
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THANK YOU FOR READING MY REVIEW! HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? WHAT DID YOU THINK? AND IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET, DO YOU WANT TO, OR NOT? HOW COME? LET ME KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS!