A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier
A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.
Some people knit socks by the fire at night. Gyssha Blackbone made monsters.
But the old witch is dead now, and somehow it’s Elodie’s job to clean up the mess.
When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she’d find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep.
Gyssha’s final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet, and now, with huge monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie’s help, whether she likes it or not.
And no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it’s still better than going back home.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED NOVEMBER 3RD, 2020
If you’re in search of witches this spooky season, look no further.
When Elodie Forster receives a letter calling her into service to someone living in Black Oak Cottage, she packs her things and moves on from her home, where her stepfather makes life miserable and her mother barely defends her. It’s a daring move, an uncertain one, but the danger lies ahead when Dee learns that she is in the employ of the latest Blackbone witch. From there, it’s her sensible capabilities against forces of magic that leave the local town wary at best and afraid at worst. Even if none of this was in the job description.
Dee is a refreshing burst of sensibility set against improbable magic.
In truth, this has to be my absolute favorite part of A Curse of Ash and Embers. Sure, I actually loved Aleida’s no-nonsense attitude and her moral murkiness. How could I not be interested? But Dee is the kind of practical character thrown in over her head, and she makes do with what she’s got, one problem at a time. It’s a delightful juxtaposition against the impossibilities and unusual features of the varied magic Aleida wields, and it grounds the more implausible elements of the book firmly. Dee doesn’t typically ask how something is done or why; she rolls her sleeves up and deals with the problems at hand first. A fire before planning an exorcism. Something resembling breakfast before traipsing into the woods to look for potion ingredients.
Occasionally, it makes her less than exciting, especially when Aleida whips out some of her more powerful magic, but at the end of the day? This is just the beginning for Dee, and her level-headed approach is going to present some very interesting problems and solutions in her future!
That future, though, is pretty murky, given how few plot clues exist.
In some ways, A Curse of Ash and Embers reads like a standalone. Focused on Aleida and Dee taking a stand against the evil machinations Gyssha Blackbone left in the wake of her death, it doesn’t quite allude to anything farther reaching than that. Right now, all that matters is the aftermath of Aleida’s duel with Gyssha, and the fate of nearby Lilsfield.
Except for that letter which summoned Dee to Black Oak in the first place. I understand that it’s the key to setting up sequels. It holds a great deal of mystery that can’t be explored in this novel alone. And yet it dangles in front of the reader, this tempting little plot thread, and we get so little of it. I want to read the next installment for answers, but I’ll admit that I’m disappointed in how often the letter’s origins were teased and then dismissed without any real form of resolution. All we know is that some higher power is at work, which doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to work out.
This letter and the details surrounding it unfortunately drag A Curse of Ash and Embers back in some places, interfering with plot pacing and structure at times when I wish it hadn’t. It didn’t ruin the experience for me, but it certainly stuck out like a sore thumb all the way to the final pages.
Come get your witches and potions and hints at demonic activity!
Though A Curse of Ash and Embers hit shelves back in 2018, it’s coming to digital formats on November 3rd, only a few short days away! Maybe that’s technically too late for spooky season, but you know what? If you love witches and a dash of the mundane pitched against sword and sorcery, you should give it a try. It’s a light read to follow up those horror novels I know you’ve been reading for the season! 🎃
CW: loss of a loved one, violence, suicide, gore, smoking, alcoholism, child abuse