PORT TOWNSEND — “Annis and James had a chance, if they decided to take it. She wouldn’t make the decision for them, but she could help them to see what was possible.
“She opened her eyes, stretched out her hands, and murmured,
“Surely know, clearly see
“The future you desire to be.
“Be not afraid, do not delay,
“Seize your chance while yet you may.”
So unfold the thoughts — and chant — of Miss Harriet Bishop, one of the powerful women in “The Age of Witches,” Louisa Morgan’s new novel. It’s a saga set in New York City during the Gilded Age — 1890 — starring Harriet, her 18-year-old niece Annis, and Annis’ hesitant paramour James.
The woman behind the Morgan pen name is Louise Marley, a Port Townsend-based author who was about to embark on a tour promoting “The Age,” and is instead staying at home.
There, she’s learning reader-connection technologies she couldn’t have dreamt of.
Among them are Zoom, Crowdcast and Instagram Live, on which Marley recently attended a cocktail party. Orbit Books, a sci-fi and fantasy publisher, hosted the affair, which concocted a mixed drink to match the book’s witches.
During this get-together, the internet booted Marley off twice, she said, but it was ultimately a fun and savvy-making experience.
Her characters in “The Age of Witches” are also in the process of getting savvy about life, liberty and love, especially for women.
Heroine Annis wants to make a life of her own, breeding horses. Since she’s from a wealthy family, she figures she can do it and do it well. But her stepmother Frances wants her to instead marry James, a nobleman from Dorset, England. Off Annis and Frances go to his family home near the English Channel.
First, though, Annis connects with her long-lost aunt Harriet, an herbalist who knows her stuff. Harriet becomes a mentor, but not an overbearing one. Annis must chart her own way through and out of the tangled web.
Marley said this novel is much lighter than her previous Louisa Morgan books, “The Witch’s Kind” and “A Secret History of Witches.” One reader thanked her for providing a diversion from coronavirus-induced stresses.
“This one is more like watching ‘Downton Abbey,’” said the writer, adding that like her other works, “The Age” is also about women’s rights and women’s choices.
“I never set out to write feminist stuff,” she said, “but I can’t get away from it. It’s just who I am.”
Marley thinks of the women of “The Age” as working witches. No magic wands, no wiggling of noses here. They use herbs and skill to cast spells; they experience “the knowing,” a sense that a change has taken place in another person’s heart.
All people have psychic abilities, Marley believes, while she thinks women are often especially open to them. And in the case of her novel’s characters, each one may choose between using intuition and influence to hurt — or help — the people in their lives.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.