From NYT bestselling author comes a haunting, high-octane contemporary fantasy for fans of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Winnie Wednesday fights to take the deadly Luminary hunter trials in Hemlock Falls’ nightmare-filled forest.
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 must enlist 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.
I’m always going to be sucked into a story where my heroine is named Winnie Wednesday, it’s gone straight on my list of potential cat names for the future. Of course one of my other strange interests is monsters, I even studied the Grotesque and Monstrous at university, so the beautifully described and illustrated monsters were exquisite. The novel had immediate appeal and didn’t disappoint. Winnie’s clan are known for belonging to a secret monster hunting society. In fact her family and her entire clan outcasts, thanks to the betrayal of her father. This is a matriarchal society and Wednesday is hoping to become the next clan leader, just like every generation of strong women in her family. Winnie is willing to risk her life on a deadly monster hunting trial, just for the chance to win back her family’s reputation and to be recognised as the foremost hunter of her generation.
The world building here is so creative and I was aware that the author is setting the scene for a series of novels, not a stand alone story. I’m a sucker for beautiful detail and there’s an abundance of it here, in Winnie’s home of Hemlock Falls, the creatures and the action scenes that follow during her mission. The mythology is based on beings that inhabit the surrounding forest, including the spirits who produce nightmares. I loved how Dennard wove an entire bestiary of mythological and paranormal creatures together all inhabiting her mystical forest. Could there be something as yet undiscovered lurking in the trees and if so, how dangerous might it be? Wednesday suspects this being could be a danger, not only to her quest, but to all the inhabitants of her town and their way of life.
As a main character I would suggest it’s impossible not to fall in love with Winnie. Once you have, you’ll be completely beguiled by her quest and you will be behind her all the way. That doesn’t mean she’s perfect, but many of her flaws come from her outcast status. For four years she’s been ostracised by friends and family, so she’s very self-reliant even if she is a little indecisive at times. She’s disconnected from others at an emotional level and doesn’t trust anyone around her. This lack of solid family background shows in the way she doubts herself, but despite this she keeps going. Her determination is incredible especially since the isolation from her society has meant she’s had to train herself with no resources at all. Despite this disadvantage her courage and abilities shine through. Out of the other characters, I enjoyed Winnie’s friendships with Bretta and Emma, because they’re the only people who show support and kindness aside from her mum and brother. There’s also a hint of romance with Jay Friday, a past friend of Winnie’s who could become something more. He’s a bit of a bad boy and I think their dynamic could develop nicely in future novels. The relationships with all other characters are established, but not developed and this can seem a bit slow. This is Winnie’s book though and the author is building our relationship with her, although I could really see the promise in these early interactions.
I loved reading this novel, it’s setting of Hemlock Falls and it’s history, the careful descriptions of each clan and their nightmares, and I liked the characters, too. It felt like a perfect base for an exciting series and I can already imagine how storylines might be expanded as we go on. It was such an easy book to read and the short chapters kept a lively pace, as well as being rather addictive late at night – just one more chapter won’t hurt will it? I’m itching to know more about Jay and his bad boy status, as well as how he and Winnie develop their romantic feelings. Of course there was a cliffhanger ending too and enough loose ends to lead us neatly into the sequel. I’m already looking forward to it.
Published 1st November 2022 by Daphne Press.
Meet The Author
Susan Dennard has come a long way from small-town Georgia. Working in marine biology, she got to travel the world—six out of seven continents, to be exact (she’ll get to you yet, Asia!)—before she settled down as a full-time novelist and writing instructor.
She is the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series, as well as the New York Times bestselling Witchlands series, and she also hosts the popular newsletter for writers, the Misfits & Daydreamers. When not writing, she is slaying darkspawn (on her PS4) or earning bruises at the dojo.
She lives in the Midwestern US with her French husband, two spoiled dogs, and two grouchy cats.