Synopsis (via Goodreads):
For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.
Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.
From the start, Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City, each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.
The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.
Unlike what feels like the entire literary community, I had not read Practical Magic prior to reading this – I hadn’t even seen the movie. This book actually came as a suggestion for my book club and, since I’d heard such fantastic reviews about Practical Magic, I was eager to read it.
Set in the 1960s, The Rules of Magic tells the story of Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owens, three young witches growing up on the Upper East Side. Franny is the oldest – she’s pragmatic and stubborn, reliant solely on logic. Bridget, or “Jet,” is next – she’s quietly beautiful and powerfully clairvoyant. Vincent, the charming rebel, is the youngest, and from the time he’s born, knows exactly how to work his magic. Growing up, they know they’re different. Their mother knows too, and in turn, instills a number of rules on the children – the number one being to never fall in love.
The summer Franny turns 17, the siblings travel to Massachusetts to spend vacation with their tenacious Aunt Isabelle. Unlike their home in Manhattan, there are no rules at Aunt Isabelle’s, and the children are allowed to do as they please. Ultimately, they discover what it truly means to be an Owens: they watch their aunt sell potions to brokenhearted locals in exchange for family heirlooms, they make magical black soap in the moonlight, and most importantly, they learn about their family curse and why they must never fall in love. After this summer, everything changes, and the Owens siblings return to New York City and, through individual and collective heartache and tragedy, embark on a journey to escape the Owens’ curse.
While I love to escape in the whimsy of a fantasy novel, I really enjoyed the level of realism Hoffman maintains throughout The Rules of Magic. Yes, the Owens are witches, and yes, they cast spells and make potions – but there’s a sense of realism to it all. As unusual as the siblings are supposed to be, Hoffman takes their magical elements and almost normalizes them throughout the novel, making their powers seem natural and instinctive. Between their dialogue and the casual descriptions of the occult, The Owens seem like your typical angsty siblings trying to navigate the rapids of life – only these siblings can see the future and talk to animals.
And although magic obviously plays a major part in the book, it’s about much more than that. The Rules of Magic is very much a coming-of-age tale about the importance of finding yourself, and leaning into, not away from, your deepest roots. It’s about acceptance and identity. I found myself totally enamored with Franny, Jet, and Vincent; I loved how different they each were, with totally unique personalities and opinions on their magical powers. But what I loved more was, despite their differences, their dedication to each other on their journey to accepting their fate and knowing themselves, especially through heartbreak. The Rules of Magic is a love story, and Hoffman has a captivating way of capturing one of the most innate aspects fo human nature. Her story articulates what it means to run from who we are and who we love, and how at the end of the day, there are some things you just can’t avoid.
Though The Rules of Magic is a prequel, you do NOT have to read Practical Magic beforehand. In fact, I suggest reading it first, so when you do read Practical Magic, you know all about the magical beginnings.