“Conjure Women” by Afia Atakora

Thanks to 4th Estate and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

When I was about 20% of the way through this book I thought to myself “this is one of those amazing books that gets ignored for no good reason” and seeing as it has hardly any reviews I guess I was right.

This book is really rather special. It is set in the Southern US and jumps backwards and forwards in time to before and after the Civil War. It’s never explicitly stated where exactly the story is set, but it all largely takes place on a slave owning plantation.

The main character is Rue, a young woman who grew up on the plantation. Her mother May Belle was a ‘conjure woman’ who performed conjurings and also acted as a kind of midwife. The more supernatural elements of the story are rather nebulous and it’s never really made clear as to whether or not May Belle did have some form of power or was it mainly a child’s skewed recollection.

The novel explores Rue’s experiences and her relationships with key characters in her life including her conflict with an enigmatic preacher, her mutually dependent friendship with the daughter of the plantation owner and the complicated relationship she has with her mother.

This book is rich, sometimes spooky and atmospheric and kept me hooked until the end. Antebellum is always tricky to write about, but the horrors and casual cruelties as seen through a child’s eyes are handled sensitively without becoming mawkish.

As well as being thought provoking and affecting this book also just had a really good story and well developed, interesting characters. A really great read and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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