The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

An intoxicating story about love and magic, The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw is oozing with atmosphere and delicious twists.

Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

I loved this story about a cursed town on the Oregon coast — not just for its perfect setting in my home state, but because Ernshaw really brings this world to life. The story is largely contemporary – set in the real world, but with a small dose of magic that has permeated just this one town — and just with this one curse. But there are other, subtler ways that the idea of this magic and mysticism seeps into the town — things like cakes for forgetting and yearly traditions that celebrate a morbid past (and an on-going morbid present).

I really enjoyed the way Ernshaw interwove stories about the past in with the on-going plot of the book – revealing little nuggets along the way about the town, the sisters, and even Penny’s own history. The way she folds these glimpses of the past into her larger narrative worked beautifully for leading up to the big twist at the end. (It’s not wholly unpredictable — I guessed the big reveal — but it was still entirely satisfying to see it unfold.)

But what really struck me while reading The Wicked Deep is the subtle but poignant ways Ernshaw brings feminism into a story about a cursed town. She does so in such a way that it reflects the world we live in (in which the lives of young men are weighed against the lives of young women, and the value given to one over the other) — and it adds a really unsettling, disturbing quality to the story that I thought was really clever. It’s also, I think, what helps set this book apart from other books about magic and witches and curses. It’s not just about this curse; it’s about what it meant to be a woman 200 years ago, what it means to be a woman now, and how — in some ways — not much has changed in all that time.

Mixed in with all of that, you also get a story about love and sisters and family, in a perfectly moody and mystical setting. Look for The Wicked Deep in stores March 6th.


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