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Content warning: Arson, cancer, death of immediate family, self-disembowelment, alcoholism, murder, violence against birds
Jena Benedict returns to her family’s farm twenty years after a tragic fire which claimed the lives of her parents and her siblings. Her grandmother, her last familial connection to the property and tragedy, is dying of cancer and Rose knows more than she leads on. Will, Rose’s live-in caretaker, has a penchant for the supernatural and follows Jena down the rabbit hole of darkness that surrounds that fateful night.
Māori/Pākehā author Cassie Hart weaves a ghost story full of eerie birds, cursed jewelry, family secrets, and chills to keep the reader up at night from start to finish.
Jena is my favorite type of horror protagonist. She’s headstrong with a strong sense of who she is now despite the gaps left from her past. You want to root for her, but also completely understand when the truth of that night in the barn becomes too much to handle. I really like the interactions between her and Will in particular. Their interests are aligned, but their approaches are completely different. He wants to believe so badly in ghosts while she’s just searching for peace after decades of psychological and spiritual unrest. The way they butt heads feels so organic and works so well from the get-go.
Hart does a marvelous job balancing flashback, context, and atmosphere. She leads the reader on a journey where in both the reader and Jena piece together the truth. That being said, it’s not all tragedy, there are some darkly comedic moments (thinking of a certain rainstorm and a bottle of rum in particular). But the magic and supernatural elements here are so compelling. The elements fit in so well with the themes of family and keeping relatives safe.
The way Hart works with cycles and folkloric elements also escalates the terror as the truth unfolds. There is precedent, there is history, but there is also the current situation unfolding. I won’t say too much because spoilers, but when certain elements begin coming together towards the end, I found myself reading the book through spread fingers. I had to see it through the end, but had a hard time watching in a horror-reader’s delight.