It is not often that a book truly matches its cover, but “The Rules of Magic,” by Alice Hoffman is as beautiful a story on the inside as the cover is on the outside. It is the prequel to the bestselling “Practical Magic,” published 14 years ago.
Do not worry, you do not have to rush out and read “Practical Magic” before you read this one — or re-read it, if you are an Alice Hoffman fan. On sight, this book begs to be picked up and I urge you to do so. It is an engaging story of love, loss and family.
The story revolves around three main characters, siblings Jet, Franny, and Vincent. They are descendants of a family of witches.
Franny is the responsible, pragmatic one. Jet the beautiful and reckless. Vincent is the lover of dark magic and the only male heir to their magical lineage. Their relationship pulls you along in different, connected directions throughout the novel.
Jet and Franny are the old and mysterious aunts from the original book. In “Practical Magic,” there is not much about them. There are hints at boys hit by lightning for love, magic and some fear from little girls and townspeople. However, in this book, the true depths of their character and pasts are revealed. The family history itself is laid bare with plenty of surprising secrets.
Much of the book takes place in 1960s New York City. Alice Hoffman is a master of description and she does not let her readers down in this book. Her writing is so vivid it feels like you can smell the lake in Central Park on a summer's night. The ’60s is itself an important character in this book. Many of the prejudices and realities are laid bare. Even the draft for the Vietnam War plays an important role in the plot.
Due to the title, it is obvious that there is magic in this book. The author weaves it into the story well, creating a work of magical realism, not fantasy. There is more of it than in her usual writing, but it is a comforting friend.
The curse that has followed the family for hundreds of years is also an important player in this book. So much so, that the characters themselves make choices that have you happy and frustrated, depending on the time in the story. The characters are so well created that it is easy to think about them as friends, and find yourself trying to reason with them and make them do things differently.
Your emotions will wrap themselves around this story, which is not an easy thing for a book. You feel the heartbreak and the triumphs right along with the characters. It is the kind of book you will want to discuss over coffee with good friends.