Published by Simon Pulse on March 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’ve always been drawn to books that feature witches, so as soon as I saw its alluring synopsis promising “Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials,” Shea Ernshaw’s debut novel, The Wicked Deep, quickly became one of my most anticipated reads of 2018. So, did it live up to expectations? Well, yes and no. The Wicked Deep is an atmospheric and engaging read — I read it easily in about a day. That said, however, it was also the kind of read that had me yelling at the characters as I was reading because I just couldn’t believe some of the things I was reading. I’ll try to elaborate on that without giving away any major spoilers…
Set in the cursed town of Sparrow, Oregon, The Wicked Deep is a story of revenge. Two centuries ago, beautiful sisters Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan moved to Sparrow. They were disliked immediately because of the way the townsmen fawned all over them and eventually they were accused of being witches and drowned in the town’s harbor. Every summer since the drowning, on the anniversary of their deaths, the spirits of the three sisters wait for teenage girls to enter the water and then they inhabit their bodies until the summer solstice. Their goal? Revenge. Like sirens, the sisters use the bodies they’ve stolen to then lure unsuspecting teenage boys into the harbor where they drown them. No one ever knows whose bodies have been taken over and once the summer solstice comes, the spirits go back to the bottom of the sea and those who were inhabited have no recollection of what has happened. Everyone in Sparrow seems to just accept that this is their fate and they have even gone so far as to morbidly exploit the curse, even referring to it as “Swan Season.” The curse has made Sparrow quite the tourist attraction and people come from miles around to see if what they have heard is true. The town throws ‘Swan’ parties and then just passively waits for the ritual to play out each year, with no hope of ever stopping it.
Things change this year, however. A young man named Bo arrives in town on the same night the Swan sisters are set to return. Bo meets 17-year-old Penny Talbot, a local who like most others, has just accepted this as her way of life. Penny fills him in on the curse and warns him that as a teen boy, he’s likely to be a potential target. The two of them start to bond and, instead of passively riding out the ritual like she does every other year, Penny becomes determined to keep Bo from falling victim to the sisters. While Penny is busy trying to keep Bo safe, seeds of discord are being sown in the town and some of the boys decide it’s time to end this curse once and for all. Someone comes up with the idea that perhaps if they can figure out which girls are inhabited by the spirits, they can kill those girls and thus prevent the spirits from returning to the sea, thus breaking the curse. This leads to a modern day witch hunt with the girls now in just as much danger as the boys.
Can the townspeople stop the curse? Can they even justify taking the lives of three innocent girls to possibly stop the curse? Can Penny protect Bo from the curse? Why did Bo conveniently show up in town that night anyway? So many questions….
I absolutely loved the atmosphere that Ernshaw creates in her novel. It’s an enchanting recipe of quaint small town quirkiness combined with the haunting and creepy vibe that this two-hundred year old curse casts over everything. Small details like the sisters using song to lure teen girls into the water to steal their bodies just added to the overall sensory experience of reading. If I was rating on atmosphere only, this would be five stars for sure.
The legend of the Swan sisters was fascinating as well. I really liked how Ernshaw allowed more and more details about their story to unfold as we’re watching the curse play out in real time. The Swan sisters were actually interesting enough that I would have loved an entire book devoted just to them, but Ernshaw does a nice job of seamlessly weaving together the past and the present to show us how the curse began and why the sisters are so bent on seeking revenge against the people of Sparrow.
Out of all the characters, Bo was probably the character who intrigued me the most. He was so mysterious and it felt like he was hiding something when he first arrived, especially the way he claimed to not be a tourist yet conveniently showed up on the first night of “Swan Season.” I felt like I was watching him most closely while I was reading, trying to figure out if he had ulterior motives for arriving in Sparrow when he did.
Okay, so let me reiterate that I enjoyed reading The Wicked Deep. As I’ve already mentioned, I read it in a day and literally could not put it down until I knew how it was going to end. That said, there were some things about the story itself that just drove me crazy and had me yelling at the characters (a lot!) while I was reading…
- I could not understand, for the life of me, how an entire town of people could continue living in a place where they know the same thing is going to happen every year. You know young men are going to drown and yet even if you are the parent of said young men, you’re cool with staying in this town? I couldn’t get past this because I just can’t fathom staying in a place like this. It should be a deserted ghost town.
- Speaking of being a tourist haven – Even if you have accepted your fate as some kind of “collective guilt,” why would you exploit this tragedy by bringing more people to your town? Are they hoping to lure in other families so that maybe non-local kids drown instead of their own?
- The teenagers’ cavalier attitude toward the entire curse. Again, you know as a teen girl in a small town, you have a very high chance of being one of the three who are “chosen” by the sisters and that if chosen, they, using your body, will murder young men. And you know as a teenage boy, that you stand a pretty good chance of being lured out to a watery grave. So why the heck do these idiots have a huge party down on the beach the first night of “Swan Season” every year and dare each other to drunkenly wade out into the water to see what happens?
Aside from not understanding why the people of Sparrow do what they do, I also guessed what was supposed to be a huge plot twist very early on, so that was a little disappointing. I will say it’s a great twist though, a total game changer, so if you don’t guess it early on, it will blow your mind when you get there.
One other area where I felt things were a bit lacking was in the area of character development. You’ll notice that aside from Bo, I didn’t really mention any other characters and that’s because I didn’t really feel all that invested in any of them. It felt like they were just there to advance the plot regarding the curse. Penny probably had the most development out of any of them but I still didn’t really feel any connection to her. Since I’m one who likes to connect with the characters, I’m reading about, this was a little disappointing.
While in many ways The Wicked Deep lived up to expectations – it’s one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read in a while and I definitely enjoyed the unique premise of the cursed town and the three sisters’ quest for revenge, the book fell a bit flat for me in other ways just because I couldn’t get past the unrealistic behavior of the people in the town and didn’t feel much of a connection to the characters. I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a haunting and creepy witch-themed read.
Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.
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.