Witches of Ash and Ruin
Lots of witches, very little ash, and not really any ruin.
Dayna is a witch in the small Irish town of Carman. Her father is the local reverend, and with her mother out of the picture, Dayna spends most of her time with her best friend, Reagan, and her coven of witches. When dark omens start appearing around town - ravens hurling themselves into classroom windows, cows dying in droves, and crops rotting in the fields - Dayna and her coven are forced to join forces with another coven led by the King Witch, a woman who was cast out of Carman for using dark magic. Together, the covens must fight against witch hunters determined to resurrect a long dead evil.
I’m always here for some representation, and while this book tried, it absolutely could’ve done better. Dayna has OCD, which isn’t a trait often seen in books. As someone not affected by OCD, I’m not going to comment on whether it was good or bad representation, just that it was there, and it appeared throughout the book. As someone with anxiety, though, Latimer could’ve done better with how Dayna and Meiner deal with their anxiety and stress. It wasn’t the worst representation I’ve ever read, but it wasn’t the best either, especially not for a book that came out in 2020. There were two token black characters, Reagan and her mother Yemi, and mostly they were there to provide tea and emotional support. Despite being described as powerful witches, there was nothing really about them. Reagan was the best friend, raised as a witch, and can mutter with the best of them, but that’s…about it.
I think the sheer amount of characters took away from the story. There were the three witch hunters, led by Dubh. There was the ex, Sam, and his dad the sheriff. There was the Carman coven, made up of Bronagh, Brenna, Faye, Yemi, Reagan, and Dayna. There was the King coven, of Harriet/Grandma King, Meiner, and Cora. Margery ran the Sage Widow shop. The reverend and Fiona were running around doing church stuff. There were some classmates of Reagan, Dayna, and Sam’s that were mentioned. There were Celtic gods, the witch Carman, and some other people. It was just a lot, and bouncing between five narrators (Cora, Meiner, Dayna, Dubh, and Sam) was a lot, and it seemed to be at the cost of further characterization and plot answers.
There were quite a few lines that were just dropped, especially for a book without a confirmed sequel. Sam seemingly turns his back on religion after witnessing real magic…and then drops off of the face of the earth. Fiona may or may not be dead, considering she was suplexed by the son of a god, but she definitely knows more than she revealed. Cora is…well, she is, and that’s a problem. Bronagh may also be alive, but who knows. Turns out the witch hunters are zombies, and that’s weird and also never explained. How much does the reverend know? What happens to the investigation and the sheriff? How did they get all the bloody sigils off the house? Did they bury Grandma King or let her rot out in a field somewhere like she deserves? I don’t know, you don’t know, and we may never know. For how many answers were spoon-fed to us through the book, several more questions and dropped plotlines were added to the list.
Also: Sam. He outs Dayna to the entirety of the village, and then is seemingly set up to become a witch himself. Who is gonna trust this boy with secrets? Not me, that’s for damn sure. And Dayna doesn’t seem all that mad after the initial reaction, but I would‘ve murdered him in the middle of the police station. It’s not hard to keep your fucking mouth shut, and outing someone in a highly religious village like Carman?? Sam is lucky that Dayna didn’t immediately block his number, and all he got was a “go to hell.” If there’s another book, I hope he gets some sort of retribution, because we will not suffer an out-er to live.
While that seems like a lot to dislike, I did overall really enjoy the book. I love me some realistic witches, especially when it’s clear someone’s done their research. It’s so easy to fall back on the well-known stuff and neglect other things, but this book had a nice mix of niche witchy information and common witchy information to make it feel real. The magic system wasn’t exactly established, but the hard limits weren’t crossed and I can appreciate that.
Meiner and Dayna’s relationship felt very natural. There wasn’t a forced narrative, and they came together after knowing one another. It’s nice that Meiner is able to held Dayna with her mental health, too, although I don’t think Meiner’s diagnosis was ever revealed. I think they’ll be good for one another, especially after the Sam disaster.
I like the witch hunters, even if they were just growly men. It was nice how they evolved from this shadowy evil lurking about to having actual backstories and reasons for killing witches. I want to know more about their magic, how they can transform, and why their memories were all hazy in the beginning. Maybe we’ll get answers in another book?
Since this is setting up for more, I can only hope that answers will be given in any subsequent sequels. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more books in this series.
Trigger warnings: forced institutionalization, murder, outing, violence, blood, cursing, dementia, panic attacks/disorders, physical abuse, religious bigotry, death, gore, grief, injury/injury detail, mental illness, biphobia, cannibalism, abandonment, psychosis
Did I like it? Yes
Recommend? Yes, especially for people interested in Celtic mythology/witchcraft