Cover Image: Conjure Women

Conjure Women

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Member Reviews

This book is set both during and after the Americanncivil war 
It follows a mother and her daughter who are slaves on a plantation 
This book is packed full of interesting themes and characters. A great read
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✨ Rounded up from 2.5 ✨

I really wanted to enjoy this book, but it ended up putting me in a reading slump. Such a shame, as what a stunner of a cover!!

Set in a village of recently freed slaves in the Reconstruction-era South, Conjure Women is the story of a midwife, Rue, who falls under suspicion from her community when they come to fear the magical roots of her healing abilities after the birth of a seemingly abnormal child.

The writing definitely had a huge amount of potential. It started off super strong, and I was immediately interested/invested in how the story was going to develop, but sadly, I never got to experience this. There were some pockets of an intriguing story, and some nice characters, yet the remainder felt like it was just meandering. I was left feeling quite confused as there were quite a few inter-linking storylines that weren't made clear or, to be frank, didn't make sense at all. Had the story been a little more cohesive and well-strung together. I would have probably been a little more engaged. 

Don't get me wrong, there is a huge amount of potential in this story. With some refining, I honestly think that this could be a stunning story, but it just didn't amaze me like I thought it would. 

Many thanks to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother's footsteps as a midwife; and their master's daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.

Conjure Women is a richly structured novel, moving between the last years of southern slavery and the risky freedom that followed. Multiple stories play out in alteration, informing each other, as well as functioning on their own. Because I kept wanting the next part of this two-sided puzzle, I found Conjure Women a very difficult book to put down

.This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
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Rue has inherited her mother’s gift and role as healer and midwife, as well as the ability to conjure curses. This book picks up shortly after the civil war and emancipation of slaves, and she continues to serve her community in the shadow of their former master’s plantation. When the birth of a baby with a strange birthmark coincides with the arrival of a preacher called Abel and a new disease which kills off the town’s children, Rue’s community begins to turn on her. Meanwhile, there are reports of a ghostly woman, which threatens to unravel the secrets which Rue has kept hidden since the war.

There are lots of things I really liked about this book. I loved the setting and the insight into ‘conjure women’, I loved Afia Atakora’s prose and the way her descriptions brought things to life, and I loved the way the story jumped between Rue’s present day and her past. There were also plot points which I found fascinating like the story of what happened to Rue’s father.

Unfortunately what held this story back for me was the lack of a clear overarching plot. I felt like Rue was plodding along while a bunch of things happened around her, and I couldn’t see what her main story arc, her goal, or her journey was. This made the reading experience feel a bit forced to me, as it felt somewhat unstructured, but I still enjoyed the writing and characters enough to keep reading.

Overall this was a good book which raises so many issues like slavery, racism, sexual assault and motherhood, and which had some brilliant prose. However the structure and plot left me feeling a bit disenchanted and unengaged.
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What a unique and original story with beautifully painted imagery throughout!

The story is told through two strong women and although they have very distinct voices they blend and merge beautifully.  The timeline passes between slavery and freedom, going from the slave trade during the American Civil War and the aftermath of the Klan uprising. 

Horrific content is written about in a way that is digestible but without taking away from the importance of that historic time period. I learned so much from reading this book and at times wanted to look away but facing this reality is needed. 

A beautiful book that will stay with me for a very long time. The characters have a very special place in my heart.
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Conjure Women is a story of the legacy of slavery, told through the eyes of Miss Rue, a midwife, healer and crafter of curses. Without doubt, it was one of the best historical novels I have read in a long time. Though the theme is darkly oppressive, Atakora writes so beautifully and uniquely, her prose lifts you beyond the terrible confines of Miss Rue's life. When sickness descends on Rue's close community, suspicion falls on her. 
Secrets, spells, subjugation....Rue must draw on all her wits and courage, and face the ghosts of the past, if she is to survive and break free. 
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I really struggled to get into this book and found myself constantly distracted where I usually wouldn’t be. I have dnf’d for the time being. I may return to it at a later date.
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This novel started out amazing, I love the world-building, Atakora is very descriptive and kind to her readers, you can tell she was very deliberate about the world. But I think this was the best part of the novel for me. Maybe it's because I've read too many books on slavery, I had high had expectations to be wowed in this novel but I wasn't.
The plot twists felt forced and were not resolved realistically. There were too many climaxes for me, so it took me up and down until I felt queasy.
The only thing I'm going to remember about this book is the world that was created
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I absolutely adored this book. Every single memory and action that took place felt like they were transporting me to that era and forcing me to bear witness to all that happened. 

Rue and May Belle despite being mother and daughter were very much night and day. Where May Belle understood her role in the world, Rue never seemed to understand that she wasn't Varina's friend but her possession.

Conjure Women gave an incredible insight into slavery and of the white men who forced the women they owned to bear children they never dared to claim.

I did wish for Rue to finally find happiness once Bruh Abel helped guide  his people to safety, and to also know what happened to Varina and Bean upon reaching Boston.

This is definitely going on my bookshelf!
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Conjure Women is a novel whose project is both immense & specific: it's set on a plantation in a community of former slaves, split between the years preceding & following the Civil War, dealing with the uncertainties & changes & complicated, contradictory impulses that come with freedom. It's about the historical moment, it's about fictional & historical narratives and what can be found in their silences, and it's also about Rue, specifically & intimately, her body, her knowledge, her relationships, her rich & subtle interiority, her voice.

I found it very beautiful, & very sensitive to difficult & painful choices, to power dynamics, to the nuances of perspective & emotion. I think it speaks clearly for its own complexities, and for its complex characters.
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Perspective is important. It is tempting to zone in on particular moments in history. When we talk of slavery there is a tendency to only focus on the southern states pre civil war – you can imagine the plantation already I’m sure as so many tales have used it. But sometimes explaining the history of what happened next is missed yet just as important and its good to remind ourselves that the end of the Civil War didn’t end racism as we see regularly on our screens every day. In Afia Atakora’s Conjure Women we visit an intriguing settlement trying to make its own way that then leads to a battle between old traditional and new belief, hope and fear.

Rue is the daughter of Miss May Belle in the slave plantation where they live her mother has a powerful role as a Conjure Woman – someone who knows old magic and remedies to cure people - not just slaves but on occasion the slave master’s household. This leaves Rue in an unusual position – her path to follow in her mother’s footsteps, able to mix with other children including her master’s daughter Varina and she is slowly realising her childhood isn’t as safe as she thought it was. We skip to after the Civil War where Rue is now ‘freed’ and lives in an exclusively Black settlement built on the ruins of the old plantation making its own way. Rue has devised a way to protect the settlement from envious white people by using the mess of the war to suggest that the old owners are still around. But a series of strange illnesses, a strange preacher and an unusual child start to pull the threads of this new settlement apart and the world outside is going to come back with a vengeance.

This story is ambitious, and I really enjoyed that Atakora is prepared to take chances. They use a non-linear back and forth plot running between the slave plantation and the new settlement to build up a growing mystery that haunts Rue and suggests the truth is coming soon. Rue is the key focus of the narrative as a child confused and only just realising that slavery will impact her life forever while in the later scenes she is fiercely protective and proud of her role as the Conjure Woman but a dreadful infection amoing the children leads to suspicion and a battle with a new charismatic preacher offering God versus the old ways Rue was taught ultimately making Rue ends up fighting dangerously to keep her own position while also she is constantly worrying that her past is coming back to haunt her . It makes her not always sympathetic but very understandable while setting up a wider mystery.

I enjoyed a lot of the atmosphere that the story creates of something secret and weird around this land. Early suggestions that Miss Mary Belle is more than expert in herbal remedies are alluded to while the new settlement is now writhed in fog and apparently haunted by a woman in white – a strange piece of southern gothic that does give the reader a sense of a strange place. Atakora does show the cruelty of slavery and its horrible unpredictability that one day you may be respected and next tortured or killed based on your owner’s mood swings. But as well as slavery we also get a look at how Black people were living post emancipation – this for me as a UK reader was something we don’t see very often and it’s fascinating how we see that freed slaves were still persecuted, and the dawning of the Ku Klux Klan are coming to the settlement’s attention in a terrible fashion. Despite that we see Back people here more as slaves celebrating religion, mourning the dead, beginning education, and finding love all of which gives the world depth.

My issue with the novel is that it is trying to do a little too much at once and rarely stays on one plot thread long enough to allow things to breathe and yet these all get in the way of pace. The ambition is to be credited but either slimming the plot threads or perhaps giving time for a story to progress may have helped pick up the novel in its later chapters. The constant back and forth makes it hard for the characters to fully come to life and I’m still not sure if Atakora successfully landed all the stories by the end.

This was an interesting tale, and I liked the ambition and range that Atakora has shown in the debut and is certainly an author I will be looking out for in the future to see what they are capable of after a promising debut tackling very difficult subjects.
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I enjoyed this book. The story was enthralling. I liked how the chapters lead you from one world to the next. The worlds were very well connected and it kept the flow perfectly. I think however who was lacking slightly  with the plot. It seemed to be missing one. Apart from that  though I really did enjoyed reading  it,
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An un-put-downable book about slavery which powerfully explores early midwifery and healing. I was equally in awe as I was horrified by the historical insights Atakora revealed about the methods employed before modern medicine.

Understandable, this is an uncomfortable read at times, but Atakora’s writing is deeply sensitive and sympathetic, making those uncomfortable moments easier to bear. The writing style has a hazy quality to it which takes a little while to adjust to, but it's so fitting of the character's perspective and understanding of the world - it just added to the immersive-ness of the book.
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This sad but wonderful story made a real impact on me, from just the cover, to the whole plot. 
Although it was a bit slow in the first half, it was a riveting read that I highly recommend!
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Varina...I never saw you coming. Not any of the times that you came across the storyline. Rue, you deserved so much more from these people who you've spent your whole life protecting and caring for alongside a mother who was revered for it. Miss May Belle, you deserved a better end than the one you got. You gave everything to that family and to those people and, in the end, it was just you and your daughter suffering through the worst moments of your life, 


What I expected: a story about women surviving in a time of uncertainty, in a time where men were the sole determiner of women's bodies and their futures, in a time where blackness was enough for you to be owned. 
What I got: black women carving their own space in a world that didn't accept their methods, a life entangled with that of the white daughter of their master, blooming hope that comes with newfound freedom, and damning secrets that could change life as they know it (both before and after the War).

You don't fully get where this is going until it gets there. You think it's about being a 'witch' when your people are finding 'civilized religion', but it's not. You think it's about a little boy, born different, signalling bad omens for your community, but it's not. You think it's about Rue finding happiness after not knowing what that really meant, but it's not. You think it's about a secret held before Wartime that evolves into an equally dangerous secret after the War, but it's not. 

It's about a life lived out loud when living was something you had to work towards rather than something you expected just in being alive. It's about being that solid constant even when you aren't wanted anymore because you realize that you're still needed. It's realizing that this life that you signed up for is far bigger than you in that one moment, far bigger than your personal hurts and comforts. It's about characters that are flawed, in a system that is flawed, trying to find a way to stay true to themselves even when doing so means leaving yourself open to even more hurt. 

TL;DR: Read this if you want to follow flawed characters that are trying to live their lives in a dual timeline, mostly single POV narrative.
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When I first read about this book I thought it was going to involve voodoo, magic, maybe healers but it isn't what I got and it left me feeling a bit deflated.

The story covers an important piece of history but for me, I just felt it dragged on and on and I really struggled to finish it. I didn't really take to Rue either.  

For me, I think there was just too much going on, I felt like I needed more from the back stories because at times I just felt a bit confused.

Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for the advanced copy.
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Afia Atakora’s ‘Conjure Women’ follows Miss Rue as she navigates her life as her village’s ‘healer’. I enjoyed the interchanged narration between the times of freedom and the war period, but on the overall, I ended up having a bit mixed feeling about the book. 

There is no denying that Afia Atakora has a great style of writing – there is some magic in it itself. The story flows, the writing is almost lyrical. However, I didn’t love the main plot of the story. At moments, it felt like the story wasn’t really going anywhere, despite numerous things happening both in the past and the present of ‘Conjure Women’.

At moments creepy and fascinating, ‘Conjure Women’ has handled quite a lot of heavy topics: from slavery and (almost) witch hunt to rape and abuse. Afia Atakora hasn’t shied away from describing those matters, and making them central to the characters of ‘Conjure Women’. There have been quite a lot of uncomfortable moments in the book that may stay with the reader for a while. 

It’ll be interesting to see more of Afia Atakora’s writing. While ‘Conjure Women’ hasn’t been completely a book for me, I have enjoyed the author’s style, and I’m looking forward to more of her works. 

My rating: 3.5/5
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A prosaic and deeply skilled work of art. The narrative is twisty and dark, and full of haunting visuals. I absolutely loved this novel and felt myself drawn into the world with frightening ease. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in books about the antebellum South and beautiful literary writing.
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The book is so haunting it was difficult for me to read. I'll try to explain. There was such a presence of the atmosphere and foreboding at points that I literally put the book away and stayed away because I was too uncomfortable to find out what could or would happen next. Perhaps, there is a flaw in the back and forth narrative between the present in the story and the recollections of the protagonist and that was also one of the reasons it was difficult to finish. Rue has a secret, that is clear, however the slow unveiling of this secret may have been too slow, stymieing the momentum of the tale that wants to be told. That the residents have an admiration/ envy and hate relationship with the Conjure' women of their enslaved society is palpable; that there are issues of woman to woman jealousy and the many intimate injustices of oppressor and oppressed in all forms is distinctly drawn. This is one I will have to re-read, without the trepidation of 'what happens next' to perhaps fully appreciate. I appreciate the opportunity to read from NetGalley
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I really liked the scope of this book. I thought the language was purposeful and it was entertaining and captivating. I would definitely reccomend.
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