Burn the Dark by S. A. Hunt: Like and Subscribe to Watch Her Gank Witches

Burn the Dark

Burn the Dark

by S. A. Hunt
Series: Malus Domestica, #1

Paperback, 368 pg.
Tor Books, 2020

Read: February 5-7, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore! Or, on audio through Libro.fm!

I’m struggling to not over-share here, so I’m just going to cite the official book blurb to explain the set-up for this novel:

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Stranger Things in award-winning author S. A. Hunt’s Burn the Dark, first in the Malus Domestica horror action-adventure series about a punk YouTuber on a mission to bring down witches, one vid at a time.

Robin is a YouTube celebrity gone-viral with her intensely-realistic witch hunter series. But even her millions of followers don’t know the truth: her series isn’t fiction.

Her ultimate goal is to seek revenge against the coven of witches who wronged her mother long ago. Returning home to the rural town of Blackfield, Robin meets friends new and old on her quest for justice. But then, a mysterious threat known as the Red Lord interferes with her plans….

I really love the concept for this book/series. No matter what I may end up saying below, I just want to say that Hunt deserves all sorts of kudos for coming up with it and executing the idea so well.

The Sabrina bit mentioned above comes from Robin, a childhood friend and someone new to town she meets when she returns. The Strange Things bit comes from a kid who has just moved to town (and into Robin’s old house—old bedroom) and the neighborhood kids he’s become friends with. Either group could probably be the focus of a book, the two of them together is what really works. I thought all the characters were well-drawn and interesting, and I would like to spend time with them all (except the witches, I think they could be developed a bit more—but that risks making them less threatening).

The magic system in this book is fantastic. Hunt gives us enough to understand it (and to see that it’s well-developed), but doesn’t drown us in the details that govern it. There’s something very raw, very rooted, almost tangible about it.

Hunt’s writing could be described the same way. It’s almost impossible not to see everything she’s describing; when she writes a tense scene, you feel it; and it’s engrossing.

Compelling writing, strong characters, a killer hook, and fast-moving plot with a great magic system—S. this is basically a recipe for a book that I’ll celebrate. But the entire time I read it, I kept thinking “I just don’t like this.” I kept reading because it’s precisely the kind of book I should rave about and I kept waiting for the switch to flip. But it’s just not my thing.

It’s not often I have this reaction, but it made me feel like Wendig’s Miriam Black books, Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, or Stross’s Laundry Files. In theory, each of those series is exactly my cup of tea. And I didn’t enjoy any of them (and I’ve read multiple volumes in two of those series). It’s an odd phenomenon, and I wish I understood it.

Still, it’s so well done that I can’t rate it lower than 3 Stars. I didn’t like it, but I respect it enough to recognize that it deserves at least that.

Eh, what do I know? Go read a post by someone who really dug this book instead.

3 Stars

2020 Library Love Challenge

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Meddling Kids (Audiobook) by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia

Meddling KidsMeddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero, Kyla Garcia (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs and 53 mins
Random House Audio, 2017

Read: October 27 – November 11. 2017

Going to be brief here, this is one of those books that’s all about the concept, if it’s up your alley, you’ll like the book.

The Blyton Summer Detective Club was a group of kids who met up on school breaks in a small Oregon town from their various homes/schools who solved mysteries à la the Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Nancy Drew and most importantly, Scooby and the gang. Time after time, they’d uncover the solution to a mystery plaguing the community — usually resulting in finding a man in a rubber suit, explaining everything. Meddling Kids asks the question: what if the solution to the mystery wasn’t (just) a man in a rubber suit? What if the kids stumbled on to something actually mystical, real monsters, etc.?

Following their last case, the gang’s lives went in separate ways — mostly downhill. Incarceration, mental health treatment, academic struggles, addiction, and so on. Finally, more than a decade later, the Detective Club reunites to return to the scene of their last triumph to see just what they missed (or suppressed).

Cantero’s execution of this premise was spot-on, early on he left the satirical component/pop culture commentary behind (pretty much), and just told the story, using that as a foundation. Really not much more to say then that.

Kyla Garcia’s narration was pretty good. A time or two I had a little trouble following it, but I think that’s reflective of the text — which doesn’t seem like the easiest to translate to this medium (not a slight on Cantero or Garcia’s talents there). On the whole, though, she did a fine job bringing this book to life and I’d enjoy hearing another book she narrated.

An entertaining celebration of the genre, a rousing adventure, and a pretty creepy story. Pretty much all you could ask for.


3 Stars

October 32 by Larry Rodness

October 32October 32

by Larry Rodness

Kindle Edition, 230 pg.
Deer Hawk Publications, 2015

Read: December 13, 2016

Alexander Malefant is a traveling life insurance agent who comes into a small town on October 31st. He witnesses a few events in a local county festival — pie competitions, largest pumpkin contest, apple bobbing, and so on — an exercise in small-=town civic pride and rivalry. The first person he meets in town intrigues him, especially when she’s accused of being a witch by a kid.

It’s not like he took it seriously, it just struck him as odd. Not long after that, he sees an apple-bobbing child being held under the water by something/someone that no one can see. The “witch” rescues him (no spells involved), and issues a warning about something happening in town. She’s promptly ignored by everyone and the festivities resume, as does Alexander’s sales day.

Once evening comes, a sales visit ends strangely when the family’s children go missing. It doesn’t take long to discover that other children are missing — not just a few, but every child (including teenagers). Alex (like everyone in town), gets wrapped up in the search. He’s also a suspect in the disappearances (like many people — especially the strangers).

To the reader, it’s pretty clear that no one is going to find a mundane explanation for the disappearance — it takes the people going through it longer. Which makes sense.

This is well-told, well-paced with a strong voice. Rodness took a bunch of long-standing ideas and combined then in an effective, creepy and entertaining way. The characters were well drawn, and I regretted not getting to spend more time with some of them. I wanted a couple of more chapters at the end (not that we were cheated in the ending, I just wanted a bit more following it). All in all, a fun read.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it. Note that the word is “honest,” not “timely” — I should have read this months ago, sorry, Mr. Rodness.


3 Stars

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char

by Scott Hawkins

Hardcover, 388 pg.

Crown, 2015
Read: July 20 – 24, 2015
This is not the easiest book for me to write about. I’m really torn about this. That’s not exactly true. I want to be torn about it. I spent a lot of time hating this book, and the rest wanting to hate it (and coming pretty close). I took a break on page 81 to write a healthy paragraph in my notes, which included, “by page 81 or so, I really had no idea what the book was about other than some guy inflicting horrible abuse — physical, metaphysical, mental, spiritual, psychological, and any other kinds possible — on children. All of whom, for various and sundry reasons are devoted to him.” There had been at least 4 distinct places by that point where I wanted to stop reading. But I received the book in exchange for a review, so I had to press on. It was within 10-20 pages after that rant that I found something I enjoyed.

If you’re reading an almost 400 page book and the first quarter is so terrible you’re only reading by compulsion? It’s not a good book. No matter how good that last seventy-five percent is.

And it was pretty good. There’s a man, who’s moved on beyond humanity after gaining great knowledge — after 60,000 or so years, he has pretty much gained all knowledge. You know that line about sufficiently advanced science appearing magical? Well, imagine that, but sufficiently advanced as to be on Doctor Strange’s level. For reasons unexplained for a very long time, he took a bunch of kids on as apprentices — teaching each of them one (and only one) discipline so they’d be as knowledge able as he is (and the methods he uses aren’t exactly endorsed by the NEA, John Dewey or even The Barnum and Bailey Circus). After a few decades or so, these children are grown, can almost not remember their old life — and the master disappears. Which is when things start to really fall apart. Oh yeah, there’s a postal carrier and a special forces agent who’s probably more skilled than Jack Reacher. And it’s almost impossible to explain how they’re involved.

The worldbuilding is fantastic, really, you’ve seen little like it. At least 3 of the characters are keepers. Plotting is careful and intricate (at times slow, at other times so fast you’ll have a hard time keeping up). I can’t tell you how many times it zigged when I thought it was going to zag. And each zig was completely believable and generally mind-bending. All in all, skillfully written, skillfully told. Still, not for me.

I’m not sure how to rank this. If going off of my reaction to it, I think I’d have to invent a new ranking system, something lower than no stars. But if going off of actual merit — it’s probably a 3.5-4 (maybe 4.5 star). Read it at your own risk. I received this from the people at Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. They probably wish I didn’t.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts

by M.R. Carey

Hardcover, 403 pg.
Orbit, 2014
Read: September 22 – 23, 2014

I HATE ZOMBIE STORIES, I should get that out of the way up front.

So why this book? Well, I put this book on my TBR list based on a tweet from the director of the most recent Much Ado About Nothing movie and a vague, yet promising, book blurb. If I’d waited until it was reviewed, or more detailed descriptions were available, I probably wouldn’t have started this. Having started it, and then figuring out what it’s about, I stopped reading it several times during the first two hundred pages — but I kept finding myself in waiting rooms, or just waiting for something, with nothing else to read — or was curious about how the next chapter would deal with plot point X. Before I knew it, I was 50% done, so I might as well finish.

There’s a little more to it than that — this book just got me, and I couldn’t stop reading it, really. Little Melanie — in all her innocent, caring, devoted, Zombie genius glory, is delightful. This book is a wonderful combination of childhood optimism, stark darkness, hope, love, despair and megalomania . . . told in a voice that’s in the same breath amusing and gut wrenching.

This is another one of those that I don’t know how to talk about without spoiling in on multiple fronts. Carey (author of the Felix Castor UF books and The Unwritten comics — and many other things I haven’t gotten around to) has created something special here, something unlike anything else I’ve read from him. Think Let the Right One In, but endearing and without the creepy sexual vibe. That’s not entirely accurate, but it’s not inaccurate, either.

I guess let’s just leave it as this: it’s a zombie novel, that I couldn’t put down and almost gave 5 stars to. Pretty remarkable accomplishment by my standards.


4 1/2 Stars