Review: A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

This is fifth review of the Nebula Award nominees in 2019. You can see the full list of short story nominees here. Scroll down for some of the other reviews this year or search by title. 

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow is well written and well worth your time to read, but I want to get one small criticism out of the way right up front. The title is totally misleading. There is a compendium, and it plays a critical role at the end, but that is not the point of the story. Also, the arcane tone conveyed by the title doesn’t reflect the contemporary setting of the story subject. Ok, on to larger topics.

The story, in a nutshell, is from the perspective of a librarian who is also a witch (or vice versa). She sees unhappy people in her library from time to time and wants to help them, though there are rules about witch’s not giving people magical information that her kind have compiled over the centuries. In this story, there is a particular youth, an African American boy, who the narrator believes is having a difficult time and is seeking magic in this world and/or a portal to another one. The question is, does the narrator break the rules to help the child or not? Continue reading