A part from The Lighthouse Witches cover, showing an illustrated lighthouse on a black backdrop and wave or leaf-like patterns around it.

The Lighthouse Witches Made Me Relive My Days of Finishing Books in A Day or Two

I’m convinced that I have had a lot of luck with Netgalley titles, leading me to discover the likes of Feathertide and The Tea Dragon Tapestry where my love for reading is rejuvenated and everything seems right in the world (even if it could be just a small slice of time).

Reading C.J. Cooke’s The Lighthouse Witches did exactly what the title says. It allowed me to relive my youthful days of devouring books in a day or two (in this case, it would be two days if other obligations are to be counted).

Brittanica’s definition for “Gothic novel” is “European Romantic pseudomedieval fiction having a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror”. Besides mystery and horror, there can be romantic elements suffused in the book. The British library has described the genre very suitably: ” From wild and remote landscapes to vulnerable heroines; from violent and erotic fantasies to supernatural and uncanny happenings; Gothic fiction has intrigued and unsettled readers for more than two centuries.” Popular examples are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The Lighthouse Witches is gothic fiction, and one that would fit in rather well with the known classics.

The Lighthouse Witches follows three narratives and three different timelines. The first is Liv in the past when she brings her three daughters to a secluded island for a painting job; the second is a book Liv’s oldest daughter Sapphire reads about the witch burning past of the island; the third is Liv’s second daughter Luna in the present, where she finds her younger sister who went missing many years ago but still maintains the body of a child.

While there are three different points-of-view, the voices are clear and distinct, and even the time jumps between the narratives are not jarring. Instead, they slip into each other to build an overall seamless narrative. The points-of-view build on each other, revealing more and more as it goes on, which I found refreshing (for I am one of those guilty readers who skips forward to read certain characters’ points-of-view before begrudgingly returning to read the rest).

The prose is simple and straightforward, free of flowery descriptions, but still capable of establishing personality, setting, and most importantly, atmosphere. The simplicity of the prose makes it easy to focus on the story – what is happening, who is speaking, without detracting from the surroundings. It doesn’t sound dry either, as it is clear what the characters are seeing and what they feel.

It can be easy to distance ourselves from the cast of supporting characters, mainly because the heavy atmosphere thick with mystery and doubt makes one wonder “what happens next? Who can I trust?”, becomes an overarching question that occupies most of the book. This is no big deal, because these questions are naturally part of what makes a thriller or mystery exciting to read. The main cast, namely Liv and her daughters, have reasonable issues, which make them interesting to read about and gradually easy to root for. The more we root for certain characters, the more invested we are in their stories, and the more we want them to triumph. However, it isn’t that simple in Gothic fiction, where elements of horror can run rampant.

The author mentioned taking inspiration from Scottish witch trials, which is grisly piece of history, but I believe information about witch hunts and witch trials should be more well-known as it reflects some issues still present in these days. Back then, women weren’t allowed to speak up for themselves when being accused as a witch, and they were tortured until their mind is exhausted and any legible, practical thought is shattered. (Trigger warning: this book contains non-graphic mentions of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, of which the subject, mood and tone may be triggering for some.)

I enjoyed this book greatly, and it brought me immense satisfaction upon finishing it, which is an experience I haven’t had for quite some time (due to an unexpected reading slump). Best of all, this book lingered in my mind and made me think and marvel over its many details as many good books often do (though perhaps bad books have a tendency to linger as well, but not for the same reasons). I kept thinking of the different characters, how love and loneliness can affect a person, how the narration links together wonderfully… The book’s tone reminds me of Shadow of the Hunter, which has a similar weighty feel. Shadow of the Hunter‘s focus is on the dark sides of human nature, and The Lighthouse Witches touches on this just as well, but with an additional magical, supernatural or science-fiction twist.

The Lighthouse Witches touched me, just as Feathertide had done. I am glad I have read it, and if you like mystery, intrigue and a little heartbreak, perhaps you would enjoy it too.

The Lighthouse Witches cover

Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Netgalley, HarperCollins and C.J. Cooke for the chance to read this delightful ARC.

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