I received an e-arc from Tor through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. And if you ever doubted my honesty, get ready for this review.
The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich is a historical fantasy novel out on November 10th. It is a fictionalized account of the beginning of Lowell’s mill women’s union, following the events of a strike.
As soon as I heard about this book a few months ago, I knew I had to read it. I mean, sapphic working class witches? Could I ask for anything more targeted toward my tastes? Apparently I could.
The Factory Witches of Lowell has an incredibly historical tone and almost feels like reading a period text. This unfortunately includes all of the hallmark sexism and racism. Something you might not expect from a book mainly featuring a cast of women. It also leaves the text feeling dry and uninspiring, which isn’t great for a book of only 80 pages. It really failed to draw me in.
The language used about some of the characters feels strangely demeaning, even in parts where it isn’t from the perspective of the religious, white, male mill owners. There is a lot of lightly sexist language that belittles the choices the characters are making, even though they are working toward rights for working women…which should be something we, in the modern era, respect.
And then, on to the racism. The story doesn’t feature, but does reference, slaves and does so really poorly.
C.S. Malerich has created a magic system that is strictly hierarchical. You can only perform magic on those who agree to be part of it, or on people or things you own or have dominion over. This is a key part of the plot, and not just a passing reference as it seems at first. In fact, this magic system is used to explain why (and I quote) “the enslaved wretches that pick cotton” can’t hex “the whole White race.” Yes, white was capitalized.
Part of the reason I like magic is that it can impact boundaries and barriers, that it can bring power to people who don’t have it within their society.
But oh, it gets worse.
There is an entire scene dedicated to explaining how one character, who can see the magic essences of other people/objects/etc, “cannot be near subjugated creatures, man nor beast” that basically equates Black people who have been sold into slavery where they are exploited, opressed, and abused to farm animals. I was totally blown away by that statement and the fact that right now, when Black Lives Matter has been even bigger in the media than usual, when people are reading anti-racism textbooks, that no one caught the racist fucking tones of this section beforehand. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was incredibly disappointed.
All in all, I would not recommend The Factory Witches of Lowell. There are better books for your queer witch needs.