In 1814, three cousins—Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope—discover their family lineage of witchcraft when a binding spell is broken, allowing their individual magical powers to manifest. Now, beyond the manicured gardens and ballrooms of Regency London, an alluring underworld available only to those with power is revealed to the cousins. By claiming their power, the three cousins have accidentally opened the gates to the underworld.
Now ghouls, hellhounds—and most terrifying of all, the spirits of dark witches known as the Greymalkin Sisters—are hunting and killing young debutante witches for their powers. And, somehow, Emma is connected to the murders…because she keeps finding the bodies.
Can the cousins seal the gates before another witch is killed…or even worse, before their new gifts are stripped away?
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I went through a period of “no more young adult” at the beginning of the year – I’d hit a rough spell where I couldn’t find anything that I liked. Despite that, I pre-ordered this anyways, because I love time period and I’d seen some bloggers praising the book. I definitely do not regret my decision.
I will say right now that this is one of the best YA fantasy titles I’ve read so far this year. While The Winner’s Curse was definitely a good book, I still consider that more a romance than fantasy. This, however, is historical urban fantasy for lack of a better descriptor. Set amongst the aristocracy of London, our protagonists are debutantes who unwittingly discover they are witches. The cousins here are all genuinely likable girls. There is a love interest in Cormac who strikes me like a charming Percy Weasley- when he starts the book he’s insistent on doing The Right Thing even though he knows that it isn’t really the right thing to. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself yelling at the book at his actions. By the same token, his character undoubtedly grows which is great to see. While we never get to see too much of the bones of the magic system at work (other than there is a lot of iron and salt used for protective purposes), the bits we see are fun, and I love how one of the protagonists ends up with antlers as a result of her magic. It’s just fun and the book so enjoyable that if you’re like me and you do prefer more detailed settings, that you’ll forgive the author for not showing us more. At the very least, there is an obvious consistency to the world so that while I can’t necessarily explain to you how Emma does magic (other than she’s a weather-witch and prone to making it rain when she gets emotional) it doesn’t feel like hand-waving or cheating to make the magic fit the situation, which I will always appreciate it.
On top of the enjoyable characters we have a couple of enjoyable mysteries – who are behind the deaths, what happened with Emma’s mom, what is the truth of Emma’s heritage – that help keep you vested in the story.
If there is a weakness, I will say that I feel like Moira and her world didn’t really feel properly integrated with the story of Emma and the more upper class witches. It’s probably because we meet her early on, then she disappears for a large swath of the book before suddenly popping up and helping the girls out at opportune times. If there are any times where it feels like Harvey is cheating, it’s there. Still, the complaint is minor and I don’t find it enough of a distraction to consider it a true negative. I just hope that in the sequel, if she does come back, that it’s a bit smoother.
The sequel, Whisper the Dead is set to bow on October 9th. From the descriptor, it appears that that book will be focused on Gretchen, not Emma. I’m looking forward to that. Robin LaFevers has been doing something similar in her His Fair Assassin series to what I think is good effect: I rather see different characters in the same world, then trying to stretch a plot with the same character to cover multiple books. Even if I’m wrong though, I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel. This book is a bit of fresh air in a somewhat stagnant fantasy YA genre with good characters, good plot, and deftly handled romance that fits in with the plot and doesn’t overwhelm it.
Verdict: Buy it