Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Book Review: The Lighthouse Witches

By Jami Denison

Fall means changing leaves, the scent of a roaring fireplace, frost on the morning grass. It’s also a time for witches and Halloween. Since witches have been a staple of storytelling literally since Biblical times, the best stories build on that past while also offering something original and new. In the latest offering by author C.J. Cooke (we reviewed her previous novel, The Nesting, here), The Lighthouse Witches, a desperate mother brings her daughters to a Scottish island that centuries ago burned witches. It’s a perfect tale for the season. 

In 1998, single mother and artist Liv takes a commission to paint an old lighthouse on a remote Scottish island. Bringing her three daughters—15-year-old Sapphire, 9-year-old Luna and 7-year old Clover, she hopes the island will help ease the pain of losing their father. But the townspeople are clannish and superstitious, and the lighthouse itself once held a prison for women accused of witchcraft. As Liv gets more drawn into life on the island, she starts to wonder about the meaning behind the mural she’s been hired to paint.

In 2021, Luna is expecting her first child and still in mourning for her missing family when she gets a call that her sister Clover has been found. But instead of the adult woman she’d expected, Luna is presented with a 7-year-old child who believes it’s still 1998 and wants to be reunited with Mummy. 

What happened to Luna’s family, and how is it possible that Clover hasn’t aged at all? Could the answer have something to do with “wildings,” which the villagers say were created by witches to mimic human children and destroy their families’ bloodlines? As Luna digs up long-forgotten memories, past and present line up for a scary collision. 

The Lighthouse Witches is a complicated tale that Cooke pulls off smoothly and effortlessly.  With multiple points-of-view and timelines, the story is grounded by her characters. Liv, hiding an enormous secret from her daughters, tries to give them a normal life even though she doesn’t know where they’ll live when her commission ends. Sapphire, her grief over the loss of her stepfather unacknowledged, tangles with the boyfriend of the local teenage witch while clashing with her mother. And Patrick, the owner of the lighthouse, has a past that can scarcely be imagined. 

Cooke hides clues in plain sight and then commits a sleigh-of-hand that would make magicians proud. The book’s ending cannot be predicted, and yet feels completely inevitable. 

“Who knows why we were taught to fear the witches, and not those who burned them alive?” Once again, C.J. Cooke reminds us that the real monsters come in human form.  

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by C.J. Cooke:

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