October is everyone’s favorite time to dig up books that are dreary, spooky, or otherwise spell-worthy. It’s getting cold outside. It’s rainy. What a pristine time to curl up and read. It’s even better when your book gives you a little chill or, the opposite, warms your heart.
Witches make great characters because they’re powerful in their own rite. They don’t let the world conquer them, they conquer the world. Plus, magical powers make for some really snappy plots.
What we’ve got here is a list of some of the best adult books about witches. They’re all of the science fiction and fantasy persuasion and they’re all tried and true. Any one of these stories will satisfy your autumn desires.
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The citizens of Black Spring, New York have a secret. One of their own, a woman named Katherine, was put to death several hundred years ago with her eyes and mouth sewn shut. She now haunts the town, appearing over sleeping children and entering homes at will. The townsfolk follow the witch’s location through an app called HEX.
No one can ever leave the town. If they do, they don’t last long. No one can ever spill about the witch. And no one should ever, ever remove her stitches.
But, as to be expected, a group of local teens are rather unhappy with this set up and they take things into their own hands to try and change their fate. Things don’t go well.
Hex was originally published in Dutch in 2013. When the US version was in the works, Thomas Heuvelt changed the setting to New York and rewrote the ending. This is a true horror story, likened to Stephen King’s earlier works, and it will leave you shivering and hopeless.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Uprooted is about a girl named Agnieszka who lives in a town called Dvernik. The town is situated against a dark, magical forest. To pay for protection from the woods, the town offers up a girl. Agnieszka’s friend Kasia has been groomed since childhood to be tribute. Everyone assumed it will be her. She’s beautiful, after all, and Agnieszka is homely and untalented.
When the wizard (whom they call “the Dragon”) comes to take his tribute, he chooses Agnieszka instead. Agnieszka learned her job is to do menial chores and domestic work. Agnieska, however, finds a book written by a witch and learns the magic for herself.
Published in 2015, Uprooted has been commissioned into Hollywood with Ellen DeGeneres as its producer. The book won the 2016 Nebula, Locus, and Mythopoeic awards.
The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
A Discovery of Witches was published in 2011 and has since spun off two more titles in the series and has been adapted for television.
The story follows Diana Bishop, a university professor, who finds a missing book tucked away in a library. She retrieves it, but strange things start to happen around her. For one, she must face her lineage as a witch, a lineage she wanted buried.
The book draws a lot of unwanted attention, from both allies and enemies. A vampire named Matthew Clairmont enters Diana’s life and a romance is sown though the two must flee because such a relationship is forbidden.
The other two books in the trilogy, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life, follow the pair as Diana learns the craft of the magic in her blood and Matthew tries to fend off the trappings of his prolific past.
Harkness, a history scholar herself, has studied the Elizabethan era and the occult and uses her expertise to design an enchanting tale.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This 1995 novel has remained a hit since its publication. The story is about the Owens women who live in a Massachusetts town. For generations they’ve been regarded by the townsfolk as witches (which they are) and looked upon with dread and disdain. Sisters Sally and Gillian, raised by their aunts, grow up to be two very different women who have to deal with the same complications of love.
Centuries earlier, one of their ancestors cast a spell that any man who falls in love with a woman from the Owens family dies. While one sister falls in love, another runs from it.
If you’re already a fan of the classic, Alice Hoffman has also written a prequel to Practical Magic, called Rules of Magic, for further fun.
Weaveworld by Clive Barker
The witch in Weaveworld is named Immacolata, and she’s a doozy. Immacolata, or, as some call her, the Incantatrix, is a vengeful Seerkind bent on destroying the Seerkind’s world.
Long ago, Seerkind wove their entire world into a tapestry in order to keep it safe from persecution and from the Scourge—a force that devours magic, terrible enough that no one who ever laid eyes on it lived to tell about it. Now, an old woman living in Liverpool, England has possession of the tapestry. She keeps it safe. Until she suffers a stroke. She sends her granddaughter, Suzanna, to get the carpet.
Meanwhile, our other character, Calhoun, stumbles upon the carpet by accident and is sucked inside. When he returns, he’s so affected by the experience he’s compelled to do whatever he can to save the secret world. But Suzanna and Calhoun are stalked by Immacolata, an overly zealous salesman, and a suspicious policeman.
Weaveworld was published in 1987 but has not lost a bit of its wonder. It’s a complex and unique story—an exercise of the imagination—that’s truly a book to be treasured.
The Witches: Suspision, Betrayl, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff
Admittedly not a fictional tale, The Witches is a historical account of the Salem witch trials written by the author of Cleopatra. Stacy Schiff is a bestselling non-fiction writer and knows how to grab your interest as surely as if you were reading a novel.
The Witches brings readers in with a portrayal of the desperate, hungry place Massachusetts was during this year. After a cold hard winter, a minister’s niece became “possessed.” She screamed and writhed on the ground. The town authorities were, of course, baffled and callous mistrust quickly took root as families and neighbors turned on each other.
Less than a year later, nineteen men and women had been hanged.
Stacy Schiff’s history of early America pulls strings that reach all the way to current times. She draws a disturbing picture of that fearful time, set in an untamed wilderness, on the banks of political uproar. There’s no story like it.
Lives of the Mayfair Witches Trilogy by Anne Rice
The Witching Hour (1990), follows a neurosurgeon named Dr. Rowan Mayfair, who has inexplicable psychic powers. When her mother dies in New Orleans, Dr. Mayfair learns she has a deep southern history she never knew about.
Michael Curry, a contractor who restores old houses, yearns to return to New Orleans, his childhood home. When Michael almost drowns, Dr. Mayfair’s strange talents bring him back from the brink of death, only with a clairvoyant ability. They travel to New Orleans together where a malicious spirit called Lasher reveals himself to Dr. Mayfair.
In Lasher (1993) and Taltos (1994), we continue to follow Dr. Mayfair as she walks a questionable line with Lasher and discovers the last of a species called the Taltos. This whole series is woven in a dramatic plot that curves and slashes and will lead you into the bleak, enrapturing books of Anne Rice.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia Delfine is a witch. She learns at a very young age that she can talk to birds, but she has no control over her powers. When the other kids at her junior high school decide she’s too weird, she’s ostracized. But, fortunately, so is someone else.
Lawrence is a technology geek and something of a genius. He gets himself into an exclusive club by building a two-second time machine in his wristwatch.
The two are separated, however, when Patricia runs away to witch school and Lawrence is put in boot camp for his odd behavior. A decade later, the two find each other at a party on the west coast: Patricia, a cocktail waitress, trying to make her magic work without getting in trouble for it; and Lawrence, a respected employee at a mega tech-corp currently building a wormhole generator.
When Patricia’s coven decides they can’t let Lawrence’s company open wormholes, the not-a-couple are put in a strained situation. All the Birds in the Sky (2016) is about the twists and turns a relationship can take. Lawrence and Patricia are put through multiple wringers and are faced with philosophical choices neither knows how to make.
Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale (2017) opens in a prominent household in medieval Russia owned by a man named Pyotr. The couple has four children and when Pyotr’s wife, Marina, breaks the news of a fifth child, unease settles over the household. Marina isn’t expected to live through another childbirth. However, Marina insists this child will carry her family’s power; something the other four children did not.
Vasya, the fifth daughter, does indeed carry the ability to talk to mystical creatures that everyone else has lost connection to, at the cost of Marina’s life. Vasya becomes something of an outsider in her own family. Yet only she can see the danger settling over her town as modern life and religion threaten old traditions. Old traditions are there for a reason. They keep bad things away.
Throughout the trilogy, Vasya goes on to learn about herself and her magic. She grows into a strong willed woman who owns her adventures and lives through The Winter of the Witch.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
A small village in rural England enclosed by a wall has adopted the name Wall. Every nine years a faerie market is held on the other side of the wall from the village. Our main character, Tristan, sees a shooting star fall beyond the wall. He promises Victoria that he will retrieve it for her in exchange for her love.
However, a household of witches living in the Faerie lands also want to get a hold of the fallen star. Stardust (1997) is a fairy tale about true love, the impossible, and the miracles found in magic.
What’s interesting about this list is that most of the books consider witches to be good (or at least, not inherently evil). That wasn’t on purpose. The list is simply a compilation of some of the most loved books about spell casters. But it turns out, we love our spell casters. It shows that readers prefer to think those with magical abilities are endearing and hopeful characters, rather than demonic monsters.
Go and read your witchy heart out!