I thoroughly enjoyed Truthwitch and Windwitch, so I was delighted when I was approved for an arc.
BLURB: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night. Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for. Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
REVIEW: This is a major shift from the Witchlands series that Dennard has been working on, though I recognised many of the same strengths in the writing. Firstly, Winnie is a gutsy, appealing character. Having spent the last four years being officially shunned by everyone in Hemlock Falls, she has the courage and resilience to still come back fighting. That said, such a hammering from erstwhile friends and relations leaves it mark – and when public attitudes suddenly shift, I was pleased that Winnie is still struggling with her anger at the betrayal. I quickly found myself entirely in her corner and willing for her to prevail as I liked and sympathised with her.
That said, I was a bit flummoxed at her particular habit of clicking her front teeth – the only people I’ve ever come across who did such a thing wore dentures. And on several occasions I was pulled out of the story by wondering exactly how much noise they made and how exactly she did it. I was a bit surprised that such a mannerism survived the editing stage, to be honest, as it’s sufficiently rare to be distracting and rather an off-putting habit.
The other strength of this story is the forest and the monsters that reside there. This terrifying place constantly creates unpleasant creatures who are highly dangerous and the Luminaries are designated families whose task it is to keep them sufficiently culled so they don’t leave the forest and spread out to attack everyone else. I enjoyed the range of monsters, who Winnie obsessively studies and draws, so we also get to discover them and their methods of killing. Winnie wants to become a hunter and has to pass three trials in order to succeed at this demanding role, but is very much hampered because while her family were shunned, she wasn’t able to train using the excellent facilities and equipment to make her sufficiently formidable. I think Dennard gets away with her workaround – I was pleased that Winnie didn’t end up being some kickass heroine who was able to march into the forest and take down a dangerous beast with hardly any problem.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and while the slow-burn romance wasn’t an aspect of the book that particularly drew me in – it was well handled. However, I do have a major grizzle that has knocked a point off my original score – and that was the very abrupt ending. Reading a digital copy meant I wasn’t completely aware of how far through the book I was. And when I suddenly swiped the page to be confronted with the back matter, I wasn’t best pleased. Chiefly because not a single one of the major dangling plotpoints are resolved. I am aware that we do have a complete story arc for Winnie, but that didn’t appear to be the narrative engine powering the plot, so I felt both wrong-footed and more than a little dissatisfied with the sudden ending. That said, I did enjoy the world sufficiently that I definitely want to discover what happens next. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Luminaries from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.