“Love is an enchantress—devious and wild. It sneaks up behind you, soft and gentle and quiet, just before it slits your throat.”
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.
TW: death (drowning)
I think this is my first 5 star review this year and I can’t think of a thing that would make me want to change that. Wanna know what this book has?
We’ve got witches (almost). We’ve got summer romance. We’ve got murder. We’ve got TRAGEDY. We’ve got a damn gorgeous cover that happens to be shimmery and shiny if you have a physical copy. We’ve got lovely lovely prose. We’ve got mystery.
We’ve got me, on the floor, totally in love.
The story opens on May 31st (coincidentally, the day I started reading, which is really neat!), right before Swan season begins, and the Swan sisters return to haunt the town of Sparrow until the summer solstice, killing boys along the way. It’s happened every year for about 200 years, and no one’s been able to stop it. Penny Talbot’s grown accustomed to it, too, having lived in Sparrow all her life. This year, though, is different. This year, she has someone to protect from the Swan sisters in the form of mysterious drifter Bo, who was (thank goodness) not the total toxic broody loner macho man I was afraid he would be.
Without spoiling anything for you (there’s so much that’s spoilable, so much I predicted and so much I didn’t!), the book follows Penny’s desperate quest to keep Bo out of harm’s way, to put an end to the Swan sisters’ reign of terror once and for all. It’s both murder mystery and romance, and I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. See, I’m normally not fond of romance. I see too much instalove, too many relationships that are more toxic than they are swoon-worthy, and honestly? A lot of relationships are made more of arguing than cooperating (which only works if you can gradually move beyond arguing a la enemies to lovers). But The Wicked Deep really doesn’t have that, and instead has a romance that had me more invested than I ever meant to be, especially since the conflict that kept them apart was just some well-guarded hearts, fear, and memory. It’s altogether surprisingly sweet and soft, and the first kiss they shared was possibly bordering on trope-heavy BUT I ADORED IT.
The other thing I really loved was the characters. They’re all very real, and since most of them are teenagers, they all do some impulsive teenager things that you could pretty confidently label as bad decisions with good intentions. They’re seventeen or so. They’re trying. They’re learning the hard way that there are consequences for even the most well-meant things they’re doing. That alone, their ability to try and sometimes fail, is so compelling. I love characters that try to do something right and end up doing the wrong thing in the end, not because they wanted to, but by mistake, because it makes their successes seem so much stronger by contrast. That, and a character who succeeds at everything is boring. These characters were anything but boring.
And oh my word, the SETTING. If you thought I was excited about the characters, please, just pick up the book now and see that there’s even more behind it. The town of Sparrow is on the Oregon coast, and every description of it has this sea-touched, light-summer-night, deep-cold-water, potential-for-danger-and-romance vibe. It’s the very definition of atmospheric, idyllic enough to play up the romantic passages, but eerie enough to make every murder moment even more unsettling. From the start, you just know something isn’t right in the town of Sparrow, and it’s all locked in that foggy, mysterious, enchanting way that it’s described. Swan sisters and their dangers aside, I could totally lose myself in a little town like Sparrow, and love every minute.
Come to think of it, that’s how characters in basically anything die. It’s too good to be true, and then they get killed by some local monster or miscreant.
I’ll play it safe and stick to reading about towns like Sparrow, then?
But really, I can’t find anything to fault with this book. I picked it up at the perfect time, and it was enchanting every minute through. It was tense but tender, and it’s also a standalone as far as I can tell (yay!), so everything is resolved by the end in a way that might not have satisfied me in other books, but totally did this time around. What a stunning book. Possibly my favorite book of the year.
Have you read The Wicked Deep yet? If you did, what did you think? If not, what books with unsettling small towns have you read and loved before? I think I have to throw some fuel on the flames, here. It’s that atmosphere that I just keep coming back to.