The best books about witches & witchcraft

From heart-breaking tales inspired by true stories to modern-day thrillers and non-fiction explorations of the criminalization of female power, here are our favourite books about witches, introduced by Kate Foster.

What is it about witches and the way they capture our imagination? From childhood stories to horror tales, there is something about wicked women that fascinates readers. Books about witches are stories about fear.

I decided to write The King’s Witches because I had been reading some incredible historical novels inspired by the lives of real people accused of the crime of sorcery. Women at the centre of power struggles and persecution. 

I wanted to write a story about the very origins of Britian’s witch panic that peaked in the seventeenth century, and has its roots in Scotland, near where I live. When King James VI of Scotland was betrothed to Princess Anna of Denmark, in 1589, her sea voyage to meet her new husband almost ended in disaster because of a storm. The storm was blamed on witches conspiring against the royal union and King James made it his mission to hunt them down. The Scottish witch trials paved the way for many more. 

Witch-lit is, at its heart, a retelling of women’s histories. These were people who were different, who were persecuted because they lived outside society and did not conform.

The best books about witches give us insight into this past and let us reflect on where we are today. Here are some of our favourites. 

The King's Witches

by Kate Foster

From the author of The Maiden, comes The King's Witches – a story set during Britain's witch-panic. But, crucially, it focuses on three women at the heart of it: Princess Anna of Denmark, betrothed to King James VI of Scotland, her pious lady-in-waiting Kirsten Sorenson, a woman with her own secret desires, and Jura, a young housemaid known for her healing charms. Based on a true story, this beautifully written novel gives a voice to the women whose lives were forever changed by the impact of the sixteenth-century Scottish witch trials.

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This stunningly evocative novel set on the remote Norwegian island of Vardø in the 1600s was inspired by the real Vardø storm and the subsequent witch hunt. When a catastrophic storm wipes out almost the entirety of the male population of the island, the women who are left, still grieving for their men, are forced to fend for themselves. Eighteen months later, the sinister new commissioner, Absolom Cornet, arrives with his young wife Ursa. Ursa sees independent women for the first time in her life, and she is drawn to Maren, the young woman who helps her navigate life in this harsh new world. But Absolom is convinced that the women’s behaviour is ungodly and he must bring them to heel by any means necessary.

The Women Could Fly

by Megan Giddings

For fans of Margaret Atwood and Octavia E. Butler, The Women Could Fly is a feminist dystopian novel that speaks to our times. In a world where witches are real and unmarried women over the age of thirty must be monitored by the state, Josephine Thomas is twenty-eight, ambivalent about marriage and on the cusp of losing autonomy over her own life. It's been fourteen years since her mother's disappearance, and Jo has heard ever possible explanation from kidnapping to murder, to witchcraft; but all these years later, she feels she's never understood her mother more. So when she's offered an opportunity to honour one last request from her mother's will, she takes it . . .

In Defence of Witches

by Mona Chollet

A fascinating take on the witch hunt, documenting historical persecution of women, and tracing it into the modern-day. Mona Chollet examines three archetypes from historical witchhunts: independent women; childless women; and women for whom ageing is acceptable. Her argument is that by looking at the lives of those who lived differently in the past, we can seek roles in the present that allow us to live more interesting lives, unfettered by societal limitations.

Hare House

by Sally Hinchcliffe

On a crisp autumn day a woman travels to London, having left her post at a London girls school in murky circumstances. She starts to explore the land around her cottage on the isolated Hare House estate, walking the moors and woodland. And she begins to hear unsettling stories, of witches, strange clay figures, and young men scared out of their wits. Having made friends with her landlord Grant and his sister Cass, doubts begin to descend. And when a snowfall traps the inhabitants of the house together, the tension escalates . . .


by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch is the first book in Susan Dennard's fantasy series. Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself. 

The Familiars

by Stacey Halls

Book cover for The Familiars

Seventeen years old, married, and pregnant – Fleetwood Shuttleworth is the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, with her husband expectant for his first heir. But when she finds a secret letter from her doctor, she is broken by the news that she will not survive the pregnancy. That is, until she meets Alice Gray, a young midwife who promises Fleetwood a healthy birth. Despite accusations of witchcraft that haunt Alice, she agrees, and the lives of the two women become more and more entwined. 


by Susan Dennard

Susan Dennard’s New York Times bestselling fantasy series continues – with the story of Iseult, the Threadwitch. The Witchlands have been on the brink of war, and in the fourth book in this epic fantasy series, it arrives. Iseult has found her heartsister Safi at last, but their reunion is brief. For Iseult to stay alive, she must flee Cartorra while Safi remains. As villains from legend reawaken across the Witchlands, only the mythical Cahr Awen can stop the gathering war. Iseult could embrace this power and heal the land, but first she must choose on which side of the shadows her destiny will lie.