Genre: Fantasy, YA
Publisher: Simon Pulse on March 6, 2018
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…
Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.
Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.
Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.
Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.
But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.
It’s been ages since I read a debut novel that reached the heights of THE WICKED DEEP, with its gorgeous writing, atmospheric setting, and sympathetic villains.
Every June, the small coastal town of Sparrow, Oregon is flooded with tourists eager to take in the macabre Swan season. Swan season makes a spectacle of the darkest chapter in the town’s history, making a farce of the intentional drownings of Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan, accused of witchcraft in the 19th century. There’s something otherworldly about Sparrow and its inhabitants, like the baker who creates cakes to make people forget their worst memories and the woman who lives with her daughter on a nearby island and reads tea leaves.
But there’s more to Swan season than quaint whimsy and garish tourist traps: each year before the solstice, three girls are possessed by the Swan sisters and lead at least three boys to their deaths in the ocean. For hundreds of years, boys have drowned off the coast of Sparrow, with no suspects and no consequences. Until now.
This book gave me the wiggins in a big way! When Penny Talbot, local outcast and high school junior, attends the annual Swan party at the beach, she’s one of the only girls who refuse to go in the water. She knows all about the Swan sisters, and there’s no way she’ll let them take her. But some forces are beyond her control, and when Penny crosses paths with a mysterious young man named Bo, a series of events is set into motion that will change the story of Sparrow forever.
As far as the fantastical elements go, THE WICKED DEEP is steeped in vague folklore and witchy juju. There isn’t any traditional world building, no magic system, or explanation of why the execution of the Swan sisters cursed the town for 200 years. Despite the synopsis’ comparisons to Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic, if you’re looking for a story about witches and witchcraft, this probably isn’t the best pick for you.
The particulars of the curse and the history of both Penny’s family and the Swan sisters’ stories are revealed slowly, with details offered up sparingly at first. Trying to suss out which girls had been possessed by the Swan sisters and which boys would be killed was thrilling and fun. The romance between Penny and Bo was a bit underwhelming, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Although there’s a pretty obvious major twist in Penny and Bo’s story, I was quite surprised and pleased with how Ernshaw handled the details of it. I found I didn’t mind that I’d worked out the twist because I was so impressed with the direction it took. Whether you see the twist coming or not, this is a story that doesn’t lose its magic once the curtain’s peeled back, so to speak.
The only thing about this story that didn’t work well for me was its ending — or rather, its denouement. THE WICKED DEEP is a dark, dark story about murder, revenge, and thwarted love, and I’ll admit that I was expecting the final few chapters to live up to the darkness and end on a poignant, chilling note. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen. The final chapters actually felt a bit schmaltzy and trite, and it felt like they were tacked on to appease readers who don’t care for tragic endings.
Overall, THE WICKED DEEP is an accomplished story of murder, revenge, and true love that tugged on my heartstrings and will leave you with chills.