ARC Review: “The Witch of Tin Mountain” by Paulette Kennedy

(thanks to Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for granting me an ARC of this book)

Read if you like: dual POV across multiple timelines, generational stories, generational magic, generational curses, feminine wisdom, demons and divinity, grimoires, witchcraft, the Ozarks, atmospheric writing, thematic depth, folklore, myth, social and societal commentary, mother-daughter-granddaughter dynamics, and family-for-better-or-worse.

Content warnings: physical abuse, emotional abuse, parental neglect, misogyny, racism, rape, sexual assault (note: none of this is graphic, and it happens off-page, but the themes are continuous throughout the book, and they are part of the character’s backstories)

Goodreads Summary:

Blood and power bind three generations of women in the Ozark Mountains. So does an evil that’s followed them across the decades.

1931. Gracelynn Doherty lives peacefully on Tin Mountain, helping her adoptive granny work her cures. Despite whispers that the women are witches, the superstitious locals still seek them out, whether they suffer from arthritis or a broken heart. But when evangelist Josiah Bellflower comes to town touting miracle healing, full bellies, and prosperity, his revivals soon hold Tin Mountain in thrall—and Granny in abject fear.

Granny recognizes Josiah. Fifty years ago, in a dark and desperate moment, she made a terrible promise. Now Josiah, an enemy, has returned to collect his due.

As Granny sickens and the drought-ridden countryside falls under a curse, Gracelynn must choose: flee Tin Mountain and the only family she knows or confront the vengeful preacher whose unholy mission is to destroy her.

(Goodreads book profile here)

My Review:

This was one of those books where I opened it, read the first page, and then promptly put it away.

I get this feeling with books sometimes. The feeling that they’re going to change something for me. In me. They’re going to matter to me. I am 100% the intended audience, in one way or another, and I can feel it from that first page alone. If I was a literary agent, I suppose this is the feeling I would look for when offering representation. And so I need to put the book away, after reading that first page, and prepare myself for the journey I know I will embark upon once I read beyond that first page.

I waited three or four weeks, preparing—and then I read the whole book in one sitting, in one evening. I even began to murmur it aloud halfway through, reciting several paragraphs over and over again.

There was basically nothing that I didn’t love about TWOTM, but I’ll try to be succinct.

First off, this is the second book from Kennedy that I’ve read, and the craft felt significantly developed to me. The storytelling was a lot more intricate, yet also a lot smoother at the same time, which is no small feat. I absolutely love seeing authors progress and advance like this.

Ultimately, what really brought this book home for me was the suspense. The book starts of slowly, as we settle into the different timelines and multiple protagonists, and then around the 15% mark you start to feel that you’re “getting something”, but you’re not fully sure what that “something” is. Not yet. But you’re willing to wait for it. Because you trust the author, and you trust these characters, and you’re starting to see parallels and patterns that point to a larger picture. This is a story with multiple timelines, meaning that most of the suspense arises from how these timelines interconnect, and when they do so. If you don’t like this type of ping-pongy suspense and initial head-scratching, then this is probably not a book for you. If you love it, like I do, then it definitely is.

Relatedly, Kennedy does foreshadowing really well. She will drop a cue in one timeline that fits with a cue in the other timeline, thus forcing you to connect the dots across the timelines and characters. Put differently: one character in one timeline will know something that the other character desperately needs to know in their timeline. A lot of tension will splay out across this skewed timeline relationship. If this is not your cup of tea, you might wanna steer clear of the book. However, if it is, you wanna gulp down that tea and pour a second cup straight away.

The book is set in the Ozarks. In contrast to her debut, this is the author’s home, and this familiarity adds to the reader immersion of the story. There is an intimacy to the culture presented on the page that tells you of the deep love that the author has of this place. Of home. And that’s relatable to any reader, I daresay. We all feel for home, and for family, both at the worst and the best of times.  This book shows that.

As usual, Kennedy treats historical fact with respect and care. Her research is thorough, as the author’s note will tell you. She writes queer characters that feel true to their circumstances and times, while she also grapples with the themes of feminism and misogyny stretched across several generations and time periods.

The Witch of Tin Mountain is a book that discusses how otherness has historically been treated as something to fear—and that this fear is hard to shake, even in more modern times. Like the very antagonist of the book, this fear simply takes a different shape. It evolves. And this, in turn, demands that we must always stay vigilant of this fear. Exactly as the protagonists of the book must also stay vigilant of it. I promise you that the thematic resonance and clarity and impact of this book will knock you off your feet by the time that you’re done reading it.

This book is like a bonfire—when it catches flame, it roars.

And if you stand too close, you get burnt.

Like the witches of the past.

And, perhaps, like the Witch of Tin Mountain herself.