Soul-stirring books
November 1, 2018 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Looking for soul stirring books, preferably with dark witchy protagonists

I've read good books, but nothing that really pushed my buttons and/or moved me to the core - and I want to experience that again. Starting to feel like the food critic in Ratatouille and it sucks

For your reference:
- Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
- Americanah
- Eleanor & Park
- Russian literature
- Book Thief

- Tamora Pierce books
- Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman books
- Kafka
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
posted by umber vowel at 7:53 PM on November 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

I know the feeling. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson have been very enjoyable reads and reminded me how amazing storytelling can be.
posted by lepus at 8:04 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you might like The Golden Compass?
posted by bq at 8:07 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you might like Murakami.

Wild Sheep Chase is a good place to start imo: it’s shorter, and a bit of a romp, but still has his trademark poetic weirdness and darkness, along with a healthy dose of literary magical realism.

If you don’t like that, you probably won’t like any of his stuff, though. Many of them do feature cool witchy women (one is an assassin too), but his other works shoot even more highbrow, and feature more sitting at the bottom of wells and cooking pasta, and go on for some thousand pages.

(nb I love Murakami for some strongly moving experiences but he’s also pretty easy to poke fun at)
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:28 PM on November 1, 2018

I did like Golden Compass!
Did not like Murakami
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 8:47 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe The Buried Giant? It's best if you don't know more than the terse synopsis at that link. It is...something. It's very Ishiguro. You may not entirely know what you read when you're done.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:51 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

OK, then, my further recommendations are:

The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Seraphina by Rachel Harttman
the Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
posted by bq at 9:03 PM on November 1, 2018

The Buried Giant is wonderful, as is A Pale View of Hills.
posted by BibiRose at 9:09 PM on November 1, 2018

Zadie Smith
posted by Grandysaur at 9:22 PM on November 1, 2018

I'm not entirely sure I know what you're looking for, but over a year later I'm still struck by the ending of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. No witches though.
posted by carolr at 9:38 PM on November 1, 2018

the Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin — James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time,” the sailor moon shittenou, Margaret Garner etc in future magical apocalypse
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson — queer ancient and recent poetry and history, could not recommend it higher
Deathless by Catherynne Valente — construction then deconstruction of “weaponized femininity” and the destructive relationships witchy young girls get into with shitty older artist men, a lot of deep Russian lit (and Ivan Bilibin) deep cuts, magical realism, cw Seige of Leningrad written about by someone not from
that background

the vibe I’m getting is, femme or queer sensibilities, darkness acknowledged in the world but not totally overwhelming like Kafka, more adult understanding of the world than Tamora Pierce, no ~oh the cleverness of me~ like Gaiman and Pratchett? Tell me more about what books gave you that early frisson you’re trying to recapture.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:20 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is exquisite and moving and may be up your alley.

Non-fiction, and not witchy, but Svetlana Alexievich (Zinky Boys, Voices of Chernobyl) will stomp on your heart if you let her.
posted by matrixclown at 10:22 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Max Gladstone's Craft sequence.
posted by wintersweet at 10:30 PM on November 1, 2018

If you liked The Golden Compass you might also like Pullman's new series in the same world, of which the first is out (La Belle Sauvage). It definitely has a dark, magical feel despite a male protagonist albeit one in an usually caring role. Aside from Naomi Novik's Uprooted, I recommend her new book, Spinning Silver which is, for my money, a better novel and chock-full of different shades of witchiness.
posted by tavegyl at 10:36 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Fionavar Tapestry?
seems to be a match with some of the books you mentioned.
It's less well known, but I really liked "The Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson. Maybe you will, too?
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 11:03 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


(sorry for yelling, I’ll show myself out...)

(Psst... A Winter’s Tale was maybe not as good, but much much much better than the movie, which really didn’t count...)
posted by jbenben at 11:22 PM on November 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sean Stewart, Mockingbird
Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu & Other Stories
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:30 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Arguably a high priestess is the opposite of a witch, but you might like "The tombs of Atuan" (Ursula K Le Guin)
posted by haemanu at 2:08 AM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think you might like Scarlett Thomas, particularly The End of Mr Y

Agree with the recommendation for Sabriel by Garth Nix, and for The Bone Clocks.

Donna Tartt's The Secret History scratches this kind of itch for me, as does some Daphne du Maurier (particularly My Cousin Rachel and Rebecca). The latter are not explicitly magical, but definitely contain dark women.
posted by bored_now_flay at 3:14 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like you might like Kate Atkinson (esp Behind the Scenes at the Museum) and Angela Carter (the Bloody Chamber, Nights at the Circus). I always find Joyce Carol Oates very witchy too. Eva Ibbotson is one that also hits the buttons for me - I love Madensky Square. The Crimson Petal and the White might also be good!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:26 AM on November 2, 2018

Something about Among Others by Jo Walton hits me like this.
posted by metasarah at 7:12 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
posted by Bron at 7:19 AM on November 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I too love witchy protagonists! (Although darkness is optional in my case).

Here are some of my favs:

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita: Margarita makes a pact with the devil to save her politically persecuted lover; the devil has a lot of fun tormenting the privileged elite under Stalin; also, (spoiler alert) the redemption of Pilatus (protagonist of a novel Margarita's lover wrote; they meet up later in the story). Caveat: to really enjoy the first chapters it's useful to have a bit of background about the Soviet Union under Stalin, which I didn't, so I only really got into it once Margarita took center stage, but wow, did I get into it then! Margarita is the best. Witchy: Absolutely, with broom rides through the night and everything. Dark: Stalinist Soviet Union, so sure. Lots of gallow's humour. Heart stirring (also content warning, it really gets dark): A the Devil's ball Margarita meets a young servant, who got pregnant by her rapist and killed her child, and is now damned to keep reliving the trauma and Margarita uses her one wish with the Devil to save her instead of her lover and that chapter will stay with me forever.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes: Middel-aged spinster Lolly Willowes escapes from a dreary life of familial obligations as the maiden aunt staying with her brother in postwar-London to finally live alone in cosy cottage in the country-side and makes a pact with the devil to get rid of her visiting nephew who threatens to drag her back into the auntly role. Witchy: yep, Lolly even gets a familiar, a very vicious kitten. Dark: Nah, I found the overall vibe quite peaceful and serene (once Lolly frees herself from her London life and compulsory heterosexuality) . Heart stirring: at the end of the novel, Lolly finally meets the real devil (after not falling for an impostor earlier in the novel), and has a heart-to-heart with him, making a rousing speech placing herself in a long line of woman freeing themselves from society's constrictions by embracing the witch-life. A+, would subscribe to this manifesto.
posted by sohalt at 7:23 AM on November 2, 2018

Have your read Difficult Women by Roxane Gay?
posted by nuclear_soup at 7:55 AM on November 2, 2018

I also came to recommend Master And Margarita, which has a couple of wonderful witches and a very Russian conception of what witchery is like. If the first part drags for you, skip to Part 2, it somewhat stands alone. People claim that some translations are better (I didn't read it in English so I can't give you a recomendation)- there's a section in the wikipedia article for the novel about the different opinions.
posted by twoplussix at 9:38 AM on November 2, 2018

Not witchy but your likes are books I loved and I think you'd also like Middlesex (mentioned above) and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
posted by emd3737 at 9:58 AM on November 2, 2018

I think you'd enjoy Madeline Miller's Circe! It's a feminist adaptation of Greek myth from the point of view of a witch in the Odyssey. An excerpt from the first chapter is available here (warning, autoplay video).
posted by spaet at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James. Seriously underrated book. And dark witchy protagonist? Oh yeah.
posted by holborne at 11:34 AM on November 2, 2018

Came here to recommend Svetlana Alexievich, but matrixclown beat me to it.

The Unwomanly Face of War. You can't find stronger women than them, witchy or otherwise. Soul stirring doesn't even start to describe this book.
posted by kmt at 2:23 PM on November 2, 2018

We Were Witches by Ariel Gore
posted by book 'em dano at 4:52 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson. Anything by her, really.
posted by BibiRose at 11:12 AM on November 4, 2018

I forgot two! The Traitor Baru Cormorant, and City of Stairs
posted by bq at 7:24 PM on November 5, 2018

The Night Circus
The Sin Eater’s Daughter
posted by soelo at 7:59 PM on November 6, 2018

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