Review of The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

I’ve never read a Susan Dennard book but the hype around The Luminaries is strong and I was so happy to have received an early copy to review. I also buddy read the book which has really helped me to get my thoughts in order for this review.

Hemlock falls is indeed in it’s own little bubble, there feels like there is little in life there that particularly conforms to social convention, I mean we open with our protagonist, Winnie age just 16, on corpse duty but now of the age to take on the trials to become a hunter. I found Winnie instantly likeable and wonderfully awkward – which is good because we are 90% focused on Winnie throughout.

I loved the trials and the way they played out, and whilst initially the pacing was slow, but understandable as Winnie throws herself into a life she hasn’t been part of for 4 years, when she begins her training montages her readiness and aptitude for the following trials picks up the flow and honestly the pages were almost turning themselves.

I loved the rich lore and the detailed descriptions of the nightmares that roam the forest, the background of the hunter clans and the witches is fascinating and for every question answered it opens the door to about 5 more. The Luminaries is far more than a standard YA girl faces monsters, there are mysteries to solve a plenty too. The single page passage at the start is definitely something i went back to and re-read to see if it gave me any clues, and each time it read a little differently depending on what i had learn from the story.

It’s definitely a book your going to want to tab or keep notes on as the breadcrumbs start to connect and you can try to unravel it all!

Where it didn’t quite work for me (and I say this with the caveat that I had an uncorrected proof) is that there is an odd tense to the writing in places, which led me having to re-read some sentences to make sure i had it right, and there is a hybrid of US and UK language which made me question where on Earth Hemlock Falls was meant to be. I also think (personal preference) that it would have been nice to have had a little bit of the story wrapped up, there are tons of questions left unanswered which felt a little unsatisfying.

That said, there is certainly a lot in the balance which is more than enough to draw me back to book 2 in the series, which I hope we don’t have to wait too long for!

Thank you to Daphne Press and Black Crow PR for sending a copy for review.

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