In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. The novel opens with this image, as related to us by the narrator, Violet, looking back on the night it happened from the present day, before returning to relate the series of events leading up to the girl’s murder.
After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.
While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals – warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology – the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society – Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance – is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.
Okay, wow. I didn’t have many expectations going into this, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so dark or graphic as it turned out to be. I listened to the audiobook of this, which I actually really liked and felt the narrator fit the story really well – but did leave me completely enveloped in the darker scenes.
This book is the darkest of dark academia I have read. It takes all of the murder mystery elements and makes them more visceral and gruesome than I ever expected. The best part of this book, in my opinion, was the writing. I loved the writing, and I think it was probably the only part of this book I truly fell for. It almost read like a modern classic, lilting and atmospheric and perfect for the story. The writing just worked for me, and I feel like the audiobook only enhanced this with the narrator.
Every breath, every moment, possessed with an illusion of glamor, of filthy decadence, purely because it was ours,
Everything else, however, I have a lot of mixed feelings about. Our main character, Violet, left me feeling infuriated for most of the story. She never learns how to say no, how to take control of her own situation or how to stand up for herself. But I couldn’t stay mad at her forever – I was more frustrated with the fact it was so easy for her to fall into this trap of impressing the popular, enthralling group of girls known as The Furies. I didn’t appreciate the decisions she made, but I also felt angry at the fact her naivety left her exposed and vulnerable.
The plot felt a bit all over the place, and I never quite knew where the end goal of the story quite fell. Even when I did figure out the next ‘goal’ to the story, it came and went in a blink and I felt like I’d been left to wonder where we were heading. It was a bit like being left to feel around in the dark, grabbing strings and hoping they would develop into a real narrative.
we two our own radical world, a star collapsing inward and bursting, gorgeous, in the dark.
This book was twisted and honestly, screwed up. But I can see the message it was trying to portray and I loved the writing, it was just sadly let down by the plot and characters in a lot of ways. It’s the kind of book I can definitely understand why people like it, but I wouldn’t want to necessarily recommend it to anybody due to the dark nature of the topics.
CW (just some off the top of my head, this book was very graphic overall so beware!): sex, sexual assault, drug use, alcohol use, murder, gore
3 out of 5 stars
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽