Book Reviews

Book Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead

By Chrysler Szarlan

Published September 2014

352 Pages

I do a lot of reading challenges, most of them on StoryGraph.  While I love the Goodreads community, there are some things I like better about StoryGraph (the stats!) and the reading challenges are one of them.  Someone posted a challenge to read the top ten StoryGraph recommendations in order in one year.  I normally don’t pay much attention to recommended books, but my list looked interesting so I thought I’d give it a go.  And who knows, maybe one of my lovely readers will see a book they also missed (most of them are several years old) and find a new favorite.  I’d call that a win-win.  So this novel is my first StoryGraph recommendation and it’s comped to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which was my introduction to Witchlit back in the day and still one of my favorite books.

Here’s the blurb: Revelation (Reve) is half of a hit magic show in Las Vegas, until the night an act goes horribly wrong and she accidentally shoots her husband.  It becomes obvious the prop gun was rigged and she and her three daughters are being watched by the killer.  At her grandmother’s insistence, they flee to Hawley, Massachusetts, close to her family home.  Hawley is famous for one thing – the entire town disappeared in the 1920s.  No one has ever discovered what happened to them, but the little town has been abandoned for decades and made the perfect spot for Reve and her daughters to hide from her stalker, a man she calls their Fetch.

Reve is descended from a long line of powerful women but there’s more to her family than she’s ever been told.  As the Fetch comes closer to finding her and Reve’s own past seems to be catching up to her, she finds a mysterious book, the Hawley Book of the Dead, that hints at a magic stronger than anything she’d dreamed of.   When her oldest daughters disappear in thin air, Reve must finally face the power that’s threatening her family to gain access to the book, as well as magic she doesn’t yet know how to wield.

“The Hawley Book of the Dead” interpreted by Wombo Dream

This is possibly the first book comped to Deliverance Dane that has come close (in my opinion – that’s a pretty high bar), although I nearly gave up on it.  The first part, set in Las Vegas, dragged on and frankly, I was a bit bored.  But the story finally came to life once the family resettled in Hawley and in quick succession we have the mystery of the disappearing townspeople, a wonderful setting, and a potential love interest for Reve (first loves always come back it seems).  What I particularly liked was the weaving of the witchcraft/magic with a slight twist on the Tuatha de Danann.  I love lineage stories and the handing down of the name Revelation was the feather in the cap on this one.

A few things I didn’t particularly care for.  Withholding of essential information by an elder is turning into a tired trope.  It’s more irritating when it’s a young witch running around with no clue, but just as tedious when the main character is in full possession (so she thinks) of her power.  Aside from that, the main story was linked to something that happened to Reve in college, but the connection between the antagonists was weak.  Lastly, of Reve’s three daughters, two hadn’t discovered their power yet.  Unless I missed it, the book ended without that being revealed.  I felt like it was a missed opportunity but ultimately, didn’t really affect the story.

The first recommendation was a winner.  I’m hoping the next nine also hit the mark.

Final rating: 3.75/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐+

Until next time, thank you for visiting.


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