In her debut fantasy novel, Francesca May invites us in as she weaves a tale about magic, secrets, and finding oneself…or is that losing oneself?…in love.
Annie’s father has just died. That’s sad, but seeing as she barely knew him, his last request for her, and only her, to visit the island where he lived to clear out his house is odd. Still, it’s a relief. Home is tough, and without her friends – Sam, who was killed in the 2 World War, and Bea, who married a wealthy gentleman and lives on the same island – Annie is restless.
She hopes the trip away will show her that her home is back on the mainland where she came from. She hopes it will settle all those bits of her that resisted the marriage, the children – the attentions of men in general.
She doesn’t expect that Crow Island, imbued with magic in every crumble of soil, will draw her into its web. Or what – and who – she’ll find there.
Magic in this world is widely known, though not everyone really believes in it. But it was used in the war to create super soldiers, leading to a law banning real magic. Faux magic shops sport licenses to sell faux magic, and the real magic hides just beyond; in the glimmer of shadows, and the light of a soft purple lamp.
The book sets up well, drawing the time, the situation, and the first characters, with an air that invites you to settle in, even as the first coils of tension begin. Crow Island becomes a place to yearn for, even as the feeling of doom builds with every page.
The pull between Annie and Emmeline, in both its immediacy and power, brings back the memories of first loves and friends lost to time. But not without also bringing back the heartbreak. The coven of witches draws you in with the feeling of connection, finding your tribe – a feeling queer folk like me know well. It feels like coming home. But, bad news: the home is sliding off a cliff.
Annie’s discomfiture in herself feels genuine, from the heart of the author herself, and the tidal pull towards Emmeline feels as inevitable as it is, at least at first, toxic.
Emmeline herself, as our second narrator, is mysterious, prickly, and confident, but not without her own fears and doubts. In her draw towards Annie she feels the doom approaching. Her nonconformity – in dress and attitude as well as magic use – is a stark reflection of reactions through the ages to those who don’t fit.
WAWT is filled to the brim with poignant and powerful descriptives, May paints pictures with her words, letting us fill in the details as she moves us forwards with confident sweeps of the brush. The relationships between our narrators and each other, the side characters, and even themselves, is constantly on shifting sands, poised to slide and fall this way or that at the slightest touch.
Every time you begin to relax around a character, they do something that tenses you up and makes you question again if you like them. But none of these people are intended to be wholly likeable. If you need that in a book, you need to keep looking. The title here accurately reflects what you get!
If you want darkness, intrigue, witches, sapphic romance, gender non-conformance, and a spring coiled so tightly that when the finale arrives you slump as the tension is suddenly relieved…then this is definitely the book for you.
I cannot reasonably find any issues to relay, other than a simple personal thing of having read too many “but no, I must not like the same gender as myself, angst and woe!” over the years (not to mention writing them myself!). But that’s because I’m an old, grumpy queer who’s read it all over and over again. There’s still a place for those stories though! They’re important because young lesbians are still going through it. But the queer joy that comes in, not to mention the endlessly tightening tension wire, are more than enough to make up for my grumpiness.