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Factory Witches of Lowell, a lovely novella by C.S. Malerich about a 19th-Century cotton workers union.
The story follows union organizer Judith and her witch coworker Hannah as they organize the women factory workers into a labour union to oppose Mr. Boott, the agent of the capitalists back in Boston.
Hannah casts a spell with the cooperation of the other factory girls that will enforce solidarity among the workers. None of them can break the strike without the cooperation of all the workers. Solidarity being perhaps the most useful tool among the working class, this is very powerful magic indeed.
Of particular note is how magic in The Factory Witches is inherently tied to a capitalist worldview, as it is impossible to cast a spell without ownership of the spell components. This draws into question the very nature of ownership over intellectual property and its theft.
Mr. Boott, as an agent of wealthier men back in the city, is doing all he can to ensure the highest profits for his principals. He raises the cost of rent, threatens lower wages and longer hours. He squeezes the workers to ensure profit stays where it belongs, with the wealthy owners. He is the clear villain as he attempts to break the strike by the factory girls. He plays this role well and is a thoroughly unlikeable character.
Overall, the story is one with a good message and a strong narrative. At a scant 80 pages, it moves along quickly and provides a hurried resolution. While many SFF stories can feel long, this novella’s weakness is that it might be too short. This results in underemphasizing the factory workers’ struggle, and failing to depict the efforts that capitalists were, and still are, willing to make to break a strike and the power of unions.
It’s easy to enthusiastically recommend this story when wanting more is our biggest quibble. We look forward to reading more work by C.S. Malerich.