Review: Toil & Trouble edited by Jessica Spotswood & Tess SharpeToil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft by Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotswood, Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Córdova, Andrea Cremer, Kate Hart, Emery Lord, Elizabeth May, Anna-Marie McLemore, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Lindsay Smith, Nova Ren Suma, Robin Talley, Shveta Thakrar, Brenna Yovanoff
Published by Harlequin on August 28, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Short Stories, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Source: Received from publisher

This extraordinary collection of fifteen stories celebrates witches using their power and claiming their destinies.


Women accused of witchcraft. Fearsome girls with arcane knowledge. Toil & Trouble features fifteen stories of girls embracing their power, reclaiming their destinies, and using their magic to create, to curse, to cure, to kill…and to live.

A young witch uses social media to connect with her astrology clients—and with a NASA-loving girl as cute as she is skeptical. A priestess of death investigates a ritualized murder. A bruja who cures lovesickness might need the remedy herself when she falls for an altar boy. A theater production is turned upside down by a visiting churel. A water witch uses her magic to survive the soldiers who have invaded her desert oasis. And in the near future, a group of girls accused of witchcraft must find their collective power…and destroy their captors.


Featuring stories by:
Tehlor Kay Mejia
Andrea Robertson
Tess Sharpe
Lindsay Smith
Brandy Colbert
Shveta Thakrar
Robin Talley
Nova Ren Suma
Zoraida Córdova
Brenna Yovanoff
Kate Hart
Jessica Spotswood
Anna-Marie McLemore
Emery Lord
Elizabeth May

With stories set in the past and present, in world real and imagined, the short stories in Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft are linked by their feminist, progressive politics. Many of the stories feature queer romances and they were clearly selected with the aim of representing a wide range of cultures and traditions. I’ve chosen to highlight three stories from the collection, representing its highest and lowest points.

Is it unbearably cliché to call “Love Spell” by Anna-Marie McLemore spellbinding?  This beautiful story follows a young bruja who’s moved in with her tía to learn more about her magic, gifts that her neighbours beg for in their hour of need and shun in the light of day. When the narrator falls in love, it seems doomed from the start. How could a witch who isn’t even permitted to receive communion ever hope to be with a boy who’s devoted his life to the Catholic Church? There are many love stories in this collection but none stole my heart like this one. McLemore’s writing is lyrical and evocative, and they accomplish a lot in only a few pages. Their writing style is full of figurative language used to great effect, especially when sharing that the narrator’s love interest is trans. I loved this story’s messages about the importance of community and faith, and the power of knowing your own worth. It’s not often that a single short story compels me to read an author’s backlist, but “Love Spell” has done just that.

In this story, real magic – real power – is found in the unconditional love of your family.

“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord is also a love story: one about the love between sisters. Despite their differences in personality and life experience, Nova, Rosie, and Willa have always been close.  Raised by their loving parents, each of the Gherin girls is smart, strong, and independent. But if she’s so strong, then why is Rosie still haunted by her relationship with her shitty ex? This tale explores the lasting effect that an abusive relationship can have on someone. Rosie has been made to feel small and stupid and foolish. In only a few pages, Emery Lord crafts distinct POVs for each of the sisters to reveal that despite what Rosie thinks, her sisters don’t blame her: they only want to help her heal. In this story, real magic – real power – comes from the unconditional love of your family. 

The most disappointing story in the collection for me is “The Moonapple Menagerie” by Shveta Thakrar. Each year, Shalini and her coven members put on a magical play, with each of them responsible for part of the production. Shalini is too embarrassed to confess to her friends that she’s suffering from writer’s block and makes a pact with a demon in a desperate bid to complete the play before opening night. I thought this one had a lot of potential in its world building, which draws heavily on South Asian mythology. Unfortunately, the plot was just so dull. I wish we’d learned more about the creatures and less about Shalini’s struggle with impostor syndrome.

I recommend Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft to fans of witch stories, diverse fantasy, and YA romance readers.