Some books catch my attention and I’m not sure why. Knowing myself, the title When Autumn Leaves, invoking my favorite time of year with its intriguing syntax, probably did it. I’m always on the lookout for books that capture the spirit of autumn. Although she’s quite well known as a lyricist, Amy S. Foster’s name wasn’t familiar to me. The cover looked autumnal and I knew it was about witches. It came out quite a few years ago, so my recollection of why I’d marked it then had faded by the time I finally got to it. The title is a play on both autumn and leaves. The main character of the ensemble cast is Autumn and knowing that changes leaves from those on a tree to a verb of action. I’ll try not to put any spoilers here since there’s plenty to say without giving away the ending.
Autumn is a good witch. Well, the book doesn’t out and say so directly. Being magical realism there’s some room for interpretation. She’s the matriarch of Avening, an island city off the west coast. Those drawn to Avening tend to have some kind of magical powers, whether or not they know of them. The story unveils the various women coming to be aware of their special talents, but generally they’re unsure what to do with or about them. Autumn is the one to help them. She’s been in Avening as long as anyone can remember, but, as the novel opens, she learns it’s her time to leave (thus the title).
Before she can go, however, Autumn has to select a replacement. This is what introduces us to the various characters in the story. We hear of the magical powers of some of the thirteen in quite a bit of detail, and others more incidentally. Many of them don’t know they have these powers. They know there’s something special about Avening and that they were drawn there, but they don’t know why. So it’s a tale of female discovery. Some of the vignettes are difficult to read, dealing with serious subjects, but they reflect realities in women’s lives. It’s not really an autumnal story, spinning as it does through the wheel of the year, beginning with the winter solstice and ending up at Samhain. It doesn’t dwell on Halloween, however. It’s much more a character-driven story. It creates a wondering image of Avening and what might happen if women were in charge. And in that respect it’s very compelling indeed.