A prequel to Hoffman's 1995 novel Practical Magic. At the beginning of the 1960s, three unique and charismatic New York teenagers, part of the Owens family of witches, come to terms with their gifts during one summer in the tiny Massachusetts town where their eccentric aunt lives.
...an enchanting prequel ... The magic in these endearing witches is in their everydayness. They cope with high-school mean girls, apply to college, play music and oh yes, can hear each other’s thoughts, move furniture with their minds and are unable to sink in water. Like every human being, the witches are doomed to lose the ones they love most. This is the kind of book you race through, then pause at the last 40 pages, savoring your final moments with the characters. Hoffman has conjured up another irresistible novel in The Rules of Magic.
...reading it was like being caught in a current, floating along with a river's twists and turns, glimpsing familiarity and difference in varied measure before tumbling into something like the sea. I kept reading, not because I wanted to reach the end, but because I wanted to dwell in the honey-light of Hoffman's words. I wanted to hold these characters' hands ... I was sometimes confused by how often do no harm came up as an exhortation or a plot point, when by any conceivable metric the Owens siblings do harm people — and themselves — with magic all the time. Trying to puzzle a consistency out of the magic use was a bit like trying to bottle up the river with a sieve, so for the most part I shrugged it off and just lay back into the current. But overall, the tug of the familiar and the enchantment of the new are the rule to which the above were exceptions. Hoffman's prose is as tender, dreamy and sweet as ever, laced with the sting of vinegar and broken glass ... The Rules of Magic shows that sometimes the work you do comes back to you threefold — and sometimes you go back to the work you've done, and unfold three times more color from it.
Their story is set in the 1960s, and Hoffman weaves cultural and historical references into the novel. It’s the summer solstice meets the 'Summer of Love'; spells and potions and superstition rub elbows with riots and music festivals and bellbottoms. Hoffman handles this commingling beautifully, and the fact that her fantasy is grounded in reality makes it feel grittier and more tangible. The Rules of Magic fills in the blanks for Practical Magic fans, but it works perfectly as a standalone as well. It’s clear why Hoffman is a favorite for fantasy readers: She creates interesting mythologies; she’s able to weave magic into the modern world; and she alludes to the magical properties of herbs and everyday items without overexplaining them and overcomplicating her narratives.