Which witch would bewitch me?
October 27, 2011 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I don’t get the zombie and vampire love at all, but there is one fantasy archetype that has always fascinated me: the witch. What witchcraft-themed fantasy fiction can you recommend? The novels can feature the witch as a sympathetic or heroic character or as the villain, and can be terrifying, erotic or funny. They just shouldn’t be poorly conceived or written. I’d like examples with of a readable calibre, please. To give you something to go by, I enjoyed Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, but found Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour horribly bloated.
posted by orange swan to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:01 PM on October 27, 2011 [15 favorites]

Mists of Avalon
posted by jquinby at 1:05 PM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

One of the main POV characters of China Mieville's Kraken is a witch in modern-day London.
posted by Oktober at 1:09 PM on October 27, 2011

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness (first in a trilogy; it's got vampires though)
The Earthsea Cycle, LeGuin (are wizards okay?)
The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Michael Scott (first in a series)
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:09 PM on October 27, 2011

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld? Granted the protagonist is a sorceress but I think it covers some of the same ground of feminine magic and is a good read.
posted by selfnoise at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2011

The Hollows
posted by pyro979 at 1:12 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I heartily second the recommendations for the Discworld series, as well as for A Discovery of Witches.
posted by Annabelle74 at 1:12 PM on October 27, 2011

Oh! Pretty much anything by Paul de Lint (The Onion Girl, Widdershins, etc.)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susannah Clarke
The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susannah Clarke
posted by elle.jeezy at 1:16 PM on October 27, 2011

Also, The Blue Star by Fletcher Pratt is obscure and out of print, but features a really original concept of witchery.
posted by selfnoise at 1:17 PM on October 27, 2011

You can't go wrong with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, witches of Discworld.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2011

I second Kim Harrison's Hollows series, also known as the Rachel Morgan series. The cover art does it absolutely no justice; it's actually suprisingly well-written, funny and expertly plotted. The main character Rachel Morgan is "the toughest witch and bounty hunter in Cincinnati, Ohio."
posted by Nixy at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Fables comic book series features an array of witches, though I think they don't become especially prominent until later in the series.

The Night Circus involves a couple of magicians, I guess not technically witches, but certainly akin to them.
posted by mlle valentine at 1:31 PM on October 27, 2011

Kelly Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_of_the_Otherworld (not all witches though)

I cant, in good conscience, not recommend the Dresden files... Sure, its mostly wizards with some vampires, but... yeah.
posted by Jacen at 1:31 PM on October 27, 2011

You might enjoy Mercedes Lackey's Diana Tregarde series, which was reissued a few years ago.

Also, if you're up for YA, Dianna Wynne Jones is terrific and has several takes on witches -- I recommend starting with Witch Week or the Chronicles of Chrestomanci.
posted by pie ninja at 1:33 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez.
posted by tdismukes at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Give the incomparable Fritz Leiber's great Conjure Wife a try:

Damon Knight wrote[4]

Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, is easily the most frightening and (necessarily) the most thoroughly convincing of all modern horror stories...Leiber develops [the witchcraft] theme with the utmost dexterity, piling up alternate layers of the mundane and outré, until at the story's real climax, the shocker at the end of Chapter 14, I am not ashamed to say that I jumped an inch out of my seat...Leiber has never written anything better.

Boucher and McComas similarly lauded the novel as "one of the best of all novels on witchcraft survivals in the enlightened modern world."[5

posted by jamjam at 1:44 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The witches in The Sandman are some of the most memorable characters in it, IMO.
posted by jbickers at 1:48 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh! Pretty much anything by Paul de Lint

Indeed, he's very good, but his first name's Charles, fwiw.

You might like Rosemary Edghill's Bast mysteries, which feature Wiccan witches.

Seconding Diana Wynne Jones. (I also have a lingering fondness for Eva Ibbotson's Which Witch? and Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch, but those are definitely on the young side.)

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar books include witchcraft as one of the varieties of magic. Unfortunately, I've just packed my paperbacks in preparation for a move, so I can't tell you which of the series is heaviest on the witches.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 1:48 PM on October 27, 2011

Robin McKinley's Sunshine gets brought up a lot in the vampire book threads, but there's a very strong thread of women handling magic in it that has a witchy feel. (Though admittedly, it may not be quite witchy enough for your purposes. But it is so good! And features so many delicious baked goods!)
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:58 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing Faint of Butt and others. Good advice from an experienced witch to an up-and-comer:

“Witches are naturally nosy,” said Miss Tick, standing up. “Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though.”
“Will it cost me anything?”
“What? I just said it was free!” said Miss Tick.
“Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive,” said Tiffany.
Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now...if you trust in yourself...”
“...and believe in your dreams...”
“...and follow your star...” Miss Tick went on.
“...you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye.”
― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:59 PM on October 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy.
posted by mogget at 2:09 PM on October 27, 2011

Serafina Pekkala in His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is fantastic (and, as played by Eva Green, was the saving grace of the dreadful film adaptation).

Unfortunately not main characters but the witches in the series are very cool. If I was a witch I'd want to be in their gang.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:14 PM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I adored Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Witch Saga growing up. It's young adult, but intelligent and creepy. Also, this pocket-sized book of witchcraft- and ghost-themed poetry is just divine.
posted by hermitosis at 2:20 PM on October 27, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsley. My favorite YA book of the year.
posted by Jeanne at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2011

Adorable space witches! The Witches of Karres
posted by nicwolff at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's some witchery both good and bad in Clive Barker's Weaveworld that you might enjoy.
posted by merocet at 4:52 PM on October 27, 2011

The Naamah trilogy by Jacqueline Carey features a rather odd witch who gets up to very interesting adventures. And lots of nookie.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:48 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wise Child and Juniper by Monica Furlong are both neat looks herbal based witchcraft. And the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett are awesome. (First one: Wee Free Men.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:54 PM on October 27, 2011

28 responses and no one has yet said Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches!? It's a relatively new book - and first in a trilogy, so there are two more to look forward to - and is both witchy and also smart, engrossing, delicious, and fun. I wish I could read it again for the first time!

I also just finished Mary Sharratt's Daughters of the Witching Hill, a historical fiction novel about the witch trials (2/3 about what led up to it) that took place in Tudor England. Also very good, but a wholly different flavor from Harkness.
posted by AthenaPolias at 6:03 PM on October 27, 2011

The Blue Star
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 7:18 PM on October 27, 2011

More magical realism, but I am brujita and ninyabruja for Francesca Lia Block's Witch Baby.

Practical Magic

Geillis and Claire identify/are perceived as witches in the Outlander books.

Anna Bennett's Litte Witch and Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family.
posted by brujita at 7:33 PM on October 27, 2011

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan is one of the most powerful, intoxicating, upsetting, awesome books I've read in a long time, and features plenty of witchcraft.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:16 PM on October 27, 2011

Might be hard to find, but Keith Roberts's stories about a young witch named Anita are good, and have been collected into one volume (1970) which works as a linked novel.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2011

I highly recommend John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick. Yes, that John Updike, I know, but it is about witches, beautifully written and I loved it back in the day. The movie is also a lot of fun although it basically has nothing in common with the book except the title.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2011

There are witches in Neil Gaiman's Stardust, and I think he's a terrific writer.
posted by kristi at 11:19 AM on October 29, 2011

You might like Emma Donoghue's Kissing the Witch. Donoghue is a subtle and amazing writer. This book is a collection of re-imaginings of fairy tales (a bit in the same vein as Carter's The Bloody Chamber). I think you'd find it interesting.

Much less well-written, but you might still enjoy them - Isobel Bird's series for children, Circle of Three.
posted by paduasoy at 5:38 PM on November 24, 2011

Oh, also Mist over Pendle. It's a bit cheesy, but not badly written. Witches definitely the villains here.
posted by paduasoy at 5:41 PM on November 24, 2011

The Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts, starting with Dance Upon the Air. Depends how concerned you are about writing quality though. I don't think Roberts is a poor writer, but she's certainly not literary in the usual sense.
posted by paduasoy at 9:06 PM on November 25, 2011

Sorry, I don't know why I can only think of one book each time I comment. A couple of people have mentioned Diana Wynne Jones, but only her children's books. Two of her adult books also have witches as main characters though - A Sudden Wild Magic and Deep Secret. The woman in Deep Secret is not as far as I recall actually called a witch, but has magical powers ... I guess you may want to consider definitions.
posted by paduasoy at 9:13 PM on November 25, 2011

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