Disclaimers for the novel, as given by the author on Goodreads: Homophobia and forced outing (forced outing isn’t on page/occurs prior to the story), mention of/alluding to conversion therapy, self-harm/blood magic, mention of rape, and alluding to/mention of physical/emotional abuse.
I love this book. My judgment may or may not be a little clouded because this is the queerest, witchiest book I’ve read in ages, but nevertheless, I’m going to preface this review with the fact that I. Love. This. Book.
Or, well, audiobook, which must be mentioned as while I’m certain that reading the book as it is would be lovely, the audiobook adds a whole new level to the experience. Katharine Lee McEwan, the narrator, brings both the characters and the Irish lilt to life in a way my inner voice cannot.
The book itself is a multi-POV YA paranormal fantasy by E. Latimer featuring a blend of Celtic mythology, modern witchery, and murder mystery. The content is fairly dark, as our protagonists had difficult lives prior to the start of the novel, which don’t get any easier.
Dayna is dealing with the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in a small town dominated by her father’s church. On top of that, her absent mother is back from a prolonged period at “camp,” she’s coping with somatic OCD, and she’s desperate to transition from witchling to a full-fledged witch.
Meiner meets Dayna at a tea shop, where they proceed to fight over a bag of tea. (Not the most enviable meet-cute, but rather funny nonetheless.) She’s in town with her coven, her grandmother and coven leader Hazel King, and fellow witch Cora, who she’s known for years, with the hopes of putting a stop to the murders Hazel has predicted.
The Butcher is killing again, and both Meiner and Dayna’s covens are in danger. Now they just need to figure out how to stop him.
Reagan, Dayna’s best friend, is the daughter of two other witches of their coven and has inundated herself with spellcraft during her years of homeschooling. Brash and funny and caring, she’s rather lovable, though the static nature of her character is a bit of a pity, and likely due to her lack of a POV.
Cora might be the most interesting character. She’s certainly more complex than Reagan and plays a larger role than one initially might expect. She has a complicated past with Meiner and her grandmother and must contend with an unquenchable thirst for power.
I tended to love Cora’s perspective, especially when it came to her views on Meiner and Dayna, and especially how she thinks Meiner thinks. It both gives insight into herself and Meiner, which wouldn’t be possible with only a one or two-person POV. It’s possible to consider Fiona to be one of the more interesting (or rather, strange) characters, but I’d consider her to be more of a plot device than a true character. If anything, Grandmother Hazel takes second place in my eyes.
There are so many threads to this story, especially with regard to the relationships between the characters. While I’d like them to be more fleshed out, such as with Dayna and her father, the somewhat chaotic jumble of friend and foe is reminiscent of the real world in a way some books don’t capture.
Every relationship is interesting in its own way. Cora and Meiner’s relationship, I think, is the most tragic, but also one that was constantly engaging when it came into play. Meiner and Dayna are, naturally, ridiculously cute, though I’m honestly not sure either of them is ready for a serious relationship yet. Even Sam and Dayna’s strange limbo is mildly entertaining, if only because it gives me something to roll my eyes at between the more serious moments.
The downside to having a large number of characters (especially when it comes to audiobooks) is that they can be hard to keep track of. Ultimately, it doesn’t affect the reading very much, but there were a few minor characters that I mixed up while reading.
Witches of Ash and Ruin is more plot-driven than character-driven, in my opinion, with lots of action. This means less monologuing and more real-time events which makes the story that much more exciting for a reader that enjoys that style. The interplay between the gods and magic and witches is fairly subtle until closer the end, so I’m hoping that we’ll get a bit more world-building through that mythos in the later book/s, assuming there are any. Same with the magic system, which was vague, but standard enough that I figure it’s a form of Wicca and didn’t feel the need to know more to understand the story as a whole.
All in all, Witches of Ash and Ruin is a pretty badass read. It’s got a couple of issues, but the complex plot, engaging characters, and vibrant narration come together to make a one-of-a-kind audiobook experience that shouldn’t be missed.