Monday, November 21, 2022

Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Every year my book club chooses to read a book that fits the spooky season. Although this one takes place in the summer, the premise made it ripe for our October read. Now, I am a huge coward and I wince every year when we try to settle on an appropriate read. Luckily for me, The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw turned out to be far more unintentionally absurd than scary.

The small town of Sparrow, Oregon has a rather macabre claim to fame. In the early 1820s, the townspeople convicted the three Swan sisters, Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel, of witchcraft and drowned them in the town's harbor for the crime of being young and beautiful and seducing the men, especially the married men, of the town. Now the sisters come back every June 1 through the summer solstice. They take possession of three local girls' bodies to lure boys into the water and drown them in turn as revenge on the town for the sisters' own deaths. The town has made a festival of this grisly occurrence and tourists flock to the town during the festival despite the danger.

This year there's a new boy in town named Bo Carter. He says he knows nothing about the history or the town festival, despite showing up on the eve of the sisters' return. He meets Penny, who was born in Sparrow and lives on an island at the decommissioned lighthouse. Penny's father disappeared without a trace several years ago and her mother has been in a deep depression ever since. Something inspires Penny to hire Bo to help out at the lighthouse and to try and keep him safe from the murderous sisters but everything is not as it seems.

The broad plot here is definitely an interesting and unique one but there are so many plot inconsistencies and inaccuracies that it makes for a frustrating read. Just to start, Penny hops in a small outboard to get from the island into the town to go to school, having to make her way through a shipwreck strewn harbor to the shore in a fog so dense that she cannot see the shore in front of her. No sailor worth their salt would even consider going out in a boat in such conditions, especially given the treacherous waters. Later in the story, Penny doesn't know one of the drowned boys, despite both of them having lived and gone to school in this tiny town for their entire lives, something that is patently implausible given the setting. Then there's the question of why the townspeople continue to stay in the town, potentially sacrificing their sons to these angry spirits. As the mother of boys, I'd move away in a heartbeat. And why on earth would tourists come with their teenaged sons to risk their deaths too? It just makes zero sense. As for the story of the sisters, which is interspersed periodically with the more present day story, it also doesn't make a lot of sense. Firstly, the sisters were apparently not actually witches, which begs the question of how they could come back as these bloodthirsty, avenging body snatchers intent on murder. Secondly, the 1820s is quite late for the persecution of (non)witches, especially resulting in the execution of said convicted witches. Was the West Coast just that far behind the East Coast (and Europe) in moving beyond such barbaric practices? Finally, without giving too much away, the ending made less than no sense at all. (I'm happy to rant about it with/at anyone who has read the book and who wants me to though.) There were also plot points that were mentioned that might have been intended to go somewhere but were ultimately dropped like Penny's best friend's mother running a bakery that made muffins specifically designed to help people from out of the Swan sisters' former store. A muffin gets sent out to Penny's mother with the specific injunction that she eat the whole thing but nothing is ever mentioned about it again. Basically the whole book made me want to throw my hands in the air and shout at it. It comes across as being an adequate first draft but one that needs work. There are a whole lot of people who seem to really like this book online but I was definitely in the majority at book club so it's not just me. On the positive side, scary books often cause me nightmares and this one absolutely did not, so there's that.

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