Timy reviews The Lighthouse Witches, C.J. Cooke‘s Mystery/Thriller/Literary Fiction novel, which is out now by HarperCollins.
An eARC copy of The Lighthouse Witches was received via Netgalley thanks to HarperCollins, in exchange of an honest review.
|Series: stand alone||Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction|
|Date of Publishing: September 30, 2021||Trigger Warnings: miscarriage, rape, violence, torture|
|Page count: 424||Publisher: HarperCollins|
Two sisters go missing on a remote Scottish island. Twenty years later, one is found–but she’s still the same age as when she disappeared. The secrets of witches have reached across the centuries in this chilling Gothic thriller from the author of the acclaimed The Nesting.
When single mother Liv is commissioned to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse on a remote Scottish island, it’s an opportunity to start over with her three daughters–Luna, Sapphire, and Clover. When two of her daughters go missing, she’s frantic. She learns that the cave beneath the lighthouse was once a prison for women accused of witchcraft. The locals warn her about wildlings, supernatural beings who mimic human children, created by witches for revenge. Liv is told wildlings are dangerous and must be killed.
Twenty-two years later, Luna has been searching for her missing sisters and mother. When she receives a call about her youngest sister, Clover, she’s initially ecstatic. Clover is the sister she remembers–except she’s still seven years old, the age she was when she vanished. Luna is worried Clover is a wildling. Luna has few memories of her time on the island, but she’ll have to return to find the truth of what happened to her family. But she doesn’t realize just how much the truth will change her.
“We form stories about our lives to create meaning out of them – without meaning, they feel shapeless, and without purpose. When something lies beyond the realm of meaning, it’s terrifying.”
Right, this wasn’t an easy decision. I wanted something atmospheric, something that gives back the vibe of the story, that inner need to search for our loved ones. When it comes to atmospheric, my default search always leads me to Poets of the Fall. I eventually picked Moments Before the Storm. Mostly because the lyrics are fitting really well.
I’ll cast the telling bones to know my fate dealt hand
And down the beach I’ll trail your footprints in the sand, overland
Till I’ll kiss your brow again
I’m right here now
I still hear your voice, calling my name
And like every new choice, it carries the promise
That we’ll find our love, that we’re not just like moths to flame
Already lost, moments before the storm
The Lighthouse Witches caught my attention during a browsing session on Netgalley. It sounded pretty intriguing and I’m glad my request got accepted. As I’m not familiar with the author, I had no expectations beyond a natural curiosity. I knew it could go either way according to my hit or miss track record with Netgalley requests. For a while, it seemed like The Lighthouse Witches would go into the miss column, but there was something that made me stuck with it and it’s a good thing I did. Eventually, it grew on me, and practically inhaled the last 40% or so. Still, I have some mixed feelings overall, which prevents me from giving it the highest rating. But first things first.
The events in The Lighthouse Witches unfold in three timelines with three main POV characters running parallel to each other, making a cohesive storyline overall once all the puzzles get into place. Firstly, we have Liv, who can be considered one of the main characters. She and her three daughters arrive at Lón Haven in 1998, as she takes a commission to paint a mural in the Scottish island’s lighthouse called The Longing. Lón Haven’s history is full of sorrow and pain and legends about witches and wildlings. All of which is connected with the lighthouse, landing Liv and her family in danger they have never seen coming. I kinda liked Liv, she is desperate and wants to give everything to her daughters even if sometimes she seems distant and unreasonable to them. But when it comes to her daughters, she would give anything for them. Probably would have liked it if we’ve got to see more of how she interacts with the locals and develops friendships with Isla and Finn particularly. For me, there was something missing that prevented me from connecting with her.
The other main POV is Liv’s middle daughter, Luna, who, 22 years later in 2021 tries to figure out what really happened on the island after her whole family disappeared. A strange encounter takes her back to the place of her nightmares and she’ll have to come to grips with her past and the choices all of them made. Luna is in her early thirties by then and was only 9 when she lost her family. I found her character a bit unlikeable, but I can’t quite put my finger on the why. In the beginning, she comes off a bit selfish and for someone whose profession is to work with kids, she sure doesn’t really know how to handle the one who ends up in her care. I don’t think I ever really warmed up to her, but she nonetheless had an interesting arc within the book.
Liv’s eldest daughter, Saffy also gets some POV chapters. She is 15 years old at the time the bulk of the story takes part, adding a layer of teenage angst and a different generational angle to the whole mystery. She is also the one who eventually figures out what’s going on. I’m a bit torn on whether her chapters were necessary plot-wise, but it adds some bits and pieces and layers to what’s happening which otherwise would have been harder to add otherwise I guess. I would have liked her if not for her stupid decisions regarding Brodie. And the sad thing about it is that although I found it cringy, the truth is, there are probably hundreds or more teenagers who would act the exact same way. Girls who only want a bit of love and attention and are too naive or scared to acknowledge (sometimes even to themselves) that they are being manipulated and abused.
And last but not least the last layer (or probably more accurate to say the base) is given by the memoirs of Patrick Roberts, who provides accounts about the witch trials in 1662 taking place in Lón Haven right next to where The Longing stands. Passages from his book are woven through the other POV chapters, providing an interesting background. I admit, these parts were my favorites, and wished there were more of this. I was more engaged with the historical fiction bits than any other parts – cue in the history buff, duh.
“Maybe we always move exactly to where and when we belong, even without realizing it. It certainly feels like that for me. As though everything in my whole life has led me to where I am now.”
All the characters also represent different kinds of love. We have parental love, sisterly love, gentle love between two people who know loss and pain, teen love that comes with heavy burdens, love that knows no boundaries and which can make people do desperate things they might not do otherwise. But with love also comes the ugly side, the jealousy, the controlling, the fear. Cooke deftly includes a wide palette of human experience spread over the generations, weaving them together through time.
The Lighthouse Witches has an interesting mix of historical fiction, folklore, mystery, and thriller elements, but at times it feels like less would be more, and more would be more. Yes, I know I don’t make sense. For example, I would have liked more about the witches and the folklore. Giving credits where it’s due, though, mixing witches and wildlings is definitely an intriguing choice and within the story, it eventually makes sense and works quite well. The beginning of the book is a bit rocky, it takes a while to find its footing. There are repetitions and the characters take a while to worm their ways into your heart. Although they didn’t really manage to do that for me. I never connected with any of them, but as I said at the beginning of my review, I practically inhaled the last 40% and that’s definitely something. Cooke‘s writing is undoubtedly very engaging.
This book made me realize that I’m not a huge fan of time jumps between the different POV chapters. But it might have been the fact that the different POVs come with different tenses and, well, points of view. Liv’s chapters are in 1st person past (which in hindsight makes sense by the end), while Luna and Saffy’s chapters are in 3rd person present, and Patrick Robert’s passages are in 1st person present again. Once I would really start to get into one character’s arc, I was wrenched out again finding myself in a different age. For me, it took a bit of getting used to for sure.
At the end of the day, I’m glad I picked up The Lighthouse Witches. Secluded places with interesting folklore and a lot of superstitious people always tend to provide a very enjoyable read. If you are curious what’s the connection between witches and wildlings, how generations of women come together, like an atmospheric setting with a lighthouse and not afraid of a good mix of genres, I’m sure you’ll find The Lighthouse Witches an excellent read for the spooky season.