Mayhem by Estelle Laure
It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book is anything but a walk in the park.
Opening with Mayhem and her mother fleeing Mayhem’s abusive stepfather, Mayhem is not the fluffy late ’80s coming of age story you might be expecting. It is, however, every bit the embodiment of that sundown energy radiating from the cover. More than that, it’s a book about finding the power to confront your past, and to change the future.
And what the costs of accomplishing these things might be.
As a Brayburn, Mayhem has a magical, powerful inheritance.
Santa Maria is the seat of Brayburn power, thanks to a violent history a few generations back. Since then, the Brayburns have been the arbiters of justice in the area, taking matters into their own hands without ever appearing to lift their hands in the first place. It’s a powerful and almost sinister magic that they wield, and I really appreciated that it was a magic with heavy consequence. Not just anyone can withstand the Brayburn legacy. Even Brayburns have to face the consequences of carrying such magic in their hands.
On the one hand, I loved that this magic has enabled Brayburns like Mayhem to take the power back from their abusers. They no longer feel like they have to flee or even endure further abuse. Even better, they sit secure in the knowledge that their abusers have to reckon with the violence they’ve dealt. In Santa Maria, Brayburns deal not in mercy, but in justice.
On the other hand, I’ll admit I had some reservations about how Brayburn justice works. As much as I love to see vile characters stripped of any power they used against those in no position to defend themselves, a quick death in the dark or the like isn’t always justice. This is especially true considering the Brayburns aren’t always doling out justice for themselves, but the Santa Maria community at large. Where’s the closure, running around after sunset, righting wrongs where no one will ever know? Who benefits from danger disappearing with no real confirmation that it’s gone?
In hindsight, maybe this works well to comment on how dangerous that much power can be. Where do you draw the line while playing god? Where should you? But I still found that the way Estelle Laure shaped that plot line was a little shaky.
The plot overall, in fact, had some unsteady roots.
If Mayhem had been a slightly longer book, maybe this wouldn’t be an issue. Maybe the author could have included all the plots she’d set up. But as it is, I felt like I was staring down too many disparate plots that had to rush to resolve themselves together. The romance arc felt weak and disjointed, especially next to the more complex (and far more interesting) relationship between Mayhem and Neve, and smashing those points together with family history, current abuse worries, a serial killer, and questions about the Brayburn family magic ultimately seemed like too much at once.
I do believe this book is best as a standalone (I don’t feel any itch for a sequel in this case), but it needed some room to breathe and fully explore.
Mayhem hit shelves a week ago!
If you want to see justice come down on the heads of those who most deserve it, Mayhem might be for you! This is especially true if you also like powerful magic that takes as much as it gives. More than that, the author comps it to Wilder Girls, The Lost Boys, and The Craft! I can’t really back the Wilder Girls comparison, but I’m hearing it lives up to the other two in spades, if that catches your eye.
And if nothing else, maybe you want a 1980s summer sunset murder story in your life. Who am I to judge you for that? Certainly not a Brayburn (thank goodness).
CW: suicide, rape, domestic abuse, violence (including gun violence), alcoholism, underage drinking, smoking, loss of a love done, drug use, addiction