Every once in a while, a book comes along that drags you into its depths and refuses to let you surface. This is what it feels like to read Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer. Full of dark magic, sensitive topics, and a wee bit of murder, yet also perfectly balanced with hopeful romance and strong friendships, Witches of Ash and Ruin is a deeply immersive and intense read.
Rating: 4.75 Stars
A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher at my request. The decision to review the novel was my own and all opinions are mine and not influenced in any way. This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase through my affiliate links. This commission goes towards funding this blog.
Witches of Ash and Ruin
Author: E. Latimer
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.
And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.
With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.
There is no two ways about it, Witches and Ruin is a dark novel. The story focuses on two partnering covens hunting down a serial killer that is also hunting them. Latimer does not shy away from the murders, and though there are a few disturbing/gory moments, it is never written in a “shock value” way. Though the story is set in contemporary times, it has a very old world feel with the celtic mythology and puritanical side plots. The sacrifices and dark rituals lend to that aesthetic in the story, instead of just being there to move the plot along.
To counteract all the darkness, there is the exploration of friendships and relationships between the coven members. Dayna’s coven is a study in found family considering her blood family all but denies who she is as a person. There is a deep bond between all the women in her coven, specifically the friendship between Dayna and Reagan, and that brings a sense of home and kinship to an otherwise intense story. There is also the kindling romance between Dayna and Meiner which is enough to make any YA reader smile with rivals to lovers glee.
One thing that may trip up some readers is all the points of view the story is told through. There are five: Dayna, Meiner, Cora, Dubh, and Samuel. From just reading the synopsis, you’d think the story would be strictly told from Dayna’s POV and it could be slightly off putting when the story doesn’t even start with a chapter of hers. As the story progresses, you can see why there are so many POVs, and with the exception of Samuel’s, all the POVs are essential to the way the story unfolds. And while each POV is very distinct in voice, the constantly changing narration (chapters range from 2 – 14 pages) does make the story feel a little choppy.
There is a mini blurb at the end of the synopsis for Witches of Ash and Ruin that refers to the characters as “achingly real” and honestly, that is so on point for this novel. While Latimer takes time to build each character, the two characters that shine through the most are Dayna and Meiner. Both break hearts and infuriate in equal measure, all while remaining some of the most authentic teen characters in YA novels right now. What stands out the most about each of them is the fact that they aren’t perfect. Dayna bottles negative emotions and internalizes so much (I think this aspect will lead to a plot twist in book 2?) and Meiner is basically a powder keg of emotions just waiting to go off. Watching those two dance around each other through the story is an absolute delight.
Before reading this story, it may be a good idea to keep some trigger warnings in mind. Some triggers include emotional manipulation, physical and emotional abuse, forced outing (off page), discussion and threat of conversion therapy, self-harm, mention of rape, mental health and medication stigmas, and triggers for somatic OCD and panic attacks. Latimer handles these topics with care and it never feels like things were put in the story just to be there. A big part of what makes this story feel so realistic is the approach of these real world situations.
Witches of Ash and Ruin has cross over appeal to not only adult and young adult readers, but contemporary and fantasy readers as well. The atmospheric setting of contemporary Ireland paired with magic and celtic mythology play perfectly off each other. The romance and rivalries bring out the authenticity with teens, while the serial killers and dark rituals lend an unsettling feeling to the story. Readers will be enthralled to the very last moment and be desperate for more once they finish.