Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.
Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.
And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.
With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.
So let’s start off simple: I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Old Irish magic, Queer and witchy characters, serial killers, dark turns and twists: Witches of Ash and Ruin had so much to offer and did not disappoint. If YA and dark fantasy are up your alley, then you will not want to miss this new debut.
The first thing I noticed and loved about this book was the irreverent and witchy vibe of the story. Even in the writing, Latimer does a spectacular job of infusing that dark, eerie, and still somehow sarcastic feeling into every sentence and atmosphere. She uses the backdrop of Ireland, with all of its ancient myths and history, to great effect that I thought highlighted some of the most interesting aspects of Irish folklore. The world she built isn’t campy or flashy, it is subtle and shifting and magical and full of hidden secrets and clues. The atmosphere, the writing, and the setting work together in a beautiful triad to support this twisted story.
All of that would be nothing, however, if the characters weren’t just as nuanced, interesting, and relatable. I love, love, love seeing more and more Queer, female stories in fiction, especially YA, but these girls were also just– fun to get to know. They’re sarcastic and snarky, smart and crafty, and so much more than “pretty young girls.” These girls are powerful, and it felt so good to read about young girls who stood so well in their power. They were also relatable as hell and reminded me of myself as a teen girl, albeit with a little more agency. And magic.
What I also enjoyed about this book was the delicate balance it was able to find between dark topics of magic and murder and a lighter, softer side of its central story. It’s almost part coming-of-age story, in that the character’s lives are given just as much significance and page-time as the mystery. I liked getting to know the main character’s insecurities, her struggles with OCD, her questions and difficulties with sexuality. Their families and friends weren’t absent, like in many lazier stories, and instead they had– lives. It was nice. In the midst of a dark and gritty murder mystery, these scenes balanced out the weight and tone of the book nicely.
Overall, I highly recommend Witches of Ash and Ruin to anyone looking for an awesome new YA fantasy. It’s great mental health and LGBTQ+ representation, plus a whole lot of magic, murder, and fun! The story was readable and I loved the twists along the way. Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!
E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was recently nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.
In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.
Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, will be released Spring/Summer 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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