Book Reviews

Review: Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

This gothic, witchy YA would make a perfect autumnal read!

Book: Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

Publication date: 18th August 2022

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Hot Key Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence and injury; child neglect; negative experience of foster care/adoption; some body horror; misogyny, unwanted sexual advances, and sexual assault (not graphic).

‘I tried to keep you safe, but I see now that I can’t. They won’t stop until they have you . . .’

When Ivy’s search for her mother draws her to a remote Welsh isle, she uncovers a dark secret about her past.

An ancient and corrupt power is stalking Ivy, and her only chance of survival is to look deep within herself.

For not every story in legend is true, and some evils are not what they seem.

A darkly spellbinding tale of female empowerment, steeped in Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend.

Horror, especially contemporary horror, isn’t really my genre, but I have a soft spot for Rachel Burge as the launch party for The Twisted Tree was the first event I went to as a blogger! Fellow horror wusses needn’t worry, as I found the scariness of this book to be within my limits – enjoyably creepy, rather than outright terrifying (though I’m glad I read it in the daylight, because it’s really atmospheric!). There’s plenty of action, and though things are fairly dark, the high pace means that things stay exciting, rather than disturbing.

This is only a short book, so I don’t want to give anything away about the plot, especially because what Ivy discovers about herself and her mother is much better experienced through the build up in the book. The first half of the book is pure mystery, as Ivy desperately tries to work out what’s going on and why she’s being targeted, but the second half slows the action for some very interesting introspection and some wonderful reworking of myth. The women of Arthurian mythology have always been fascinating to me, and the way that Waking the Witch utilises parts of their stories is really clever – I enjoyed Burge’s take on them very much.

There are deep themes of feminism, identity, and strength here, and some interesting investigations of how power can function to reinforce or destroy the status quo. The main reveal and the climax of the book are perhaps a little bit on the nose in how they overtly set women against a male oppressor, but it’s certainly not badly done, just a little unsubtle. I did like how Ivy’s journey involved her examining what she’d always been told and whether that was true, and how this is echoed in the reader having to confront whether Arthurian myth’s heroes and villains are exactly that, or whether there’s room for nuance.

Overall, this is a fun and nicely creepy read with a very keen feminist message, so if you’re looking for something atmospheric and powerful, but not too long, or if you enjoy reinterpretations of mythical women, this would be a great bet. Four out of five cats!

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