Witches of Ash and Ruin
Rating - ⭐⭐1/2
"Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent.
But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.
And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer's motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don't stop the Butcher, one of them will be next."
Witches of Ash and Ruin is a standalone YA fantasy novel by E. Latimer.
I haven't seen many people talk about this book, and before going into this I didn't know if that was a good or a bad thing. This was also penned as a book for fans of A Discovery of Witches which...I didn't have the best time with. It turns out those were in fact warning signs, as I didn't end up enjoying this as much as I would have liked.
The plot was decent enough, but what ended up dragging down the story for me was the unlikable characters and some needed missing context.
I was on the fence between giving this a rating of 3-stars or 2.5-stars, but reflecting on how frustrating the characters were and the way the story ended solidified this as a 2.5-star read and not just a 'meh' book.
Now, let's get into the details.
I don't have any complaints about the writing besides some pacing issues which I will get into later. I want to make a note though that because this is set in Ireland, there are non-English words in this that do not have a translation.
As soon as I started reading this, I was getting flashbacks of a YouTuber I watched who did not like this book, and that wasn't the best sign because I could see what they were complaining about.
This was a multi-layered plot, and because of that each plotline wasn't explored or explained enough. In the end, I was left with questions that weren't answered and some needed context that was missing.
Moving onto my issues with the pacing, it was quick to start but moved steadily until the story started reaching the end. It took a bit to get to the climax and when it did, too much was happening and it was over too quickly. I think the story would have benefited from stretching out the climax a bit. The ending was so chaotic that I actually had to go backwards and re-read it because I thought I skipped something.
Leading straight into my next issue, the pacing caused another problem for me. It took the characters an excruciatingly long time to realize things that were obvious to the reader. They just bumbled around not fully grasping the fact that there is a serial killer on the loose.
There was also a lot of repetition that wasn't the greatest thing to have to constantly re-read. Whenever something was about to happen, it was a cycle of someone trying to warn others of danger, then said danger would rear its head and someone would get hurt, and repeat.
Finally, we have the ending of the book. I already said that the climax was chaotic, but the ending was something else. It felt like a slap in the face because of how ridiculous I thought it was. It was made worse because this is a standalone, so there's nothing that comes after the fact.
This is, of course, set in a world where there are witches. There are different kinds of witches, such as a hedge witch for example. They are also shown heavily relying on different prophetic mediums, such as tarot, tea reading and scrying. In this, there is also the idea of ascension. When you turn 16, you can pick a god to devote yourself to and then perform a ritual which then grants you with your full abilities.
While there was an effort made to create this world, I needed more context because I felt like some things just weren't explained enough. Interesting aspects would be mentioned but then wouldn't really be expanded upon which was disappointing.
This is also set in Ireland, and I am not from there nor have I ever been, so I don't know if this actually felt like it was set there.
As I said in the introduction, the characters were the main downfall of this story. They were, well, kind of useless really and they just didn't have great personalities. Now, this book has multiple perspectives and we followed Dayna, Meiner, Cora, Samuel and Dubh.
Starting with Dayna, our main character I would say, she is a young witch with OCD. Now, I have no idea what it is like to live with OCD, so I am unsure how good the representation in this is. Moving on though, she bothered me because she was never really able to accomplish anything. She would insist that she didn't need any help but would proceed to freeze up in every situation she got herself into.
Meiner, Dayna's love interest, didn't really have much personality beyond being a ball of anger. Whenever the story was being told from her perspective, she would also be angry at everything, and it got annoying to read about rather quickly.
Cora, Meiner's fellow coven member, somehow managed to be even worse than both Dayna and Meiner and we didn't even get her perspective as frequently. To put it simply, she put herself in a very bad place in order to get power, and I did not care one bit if and when it came to bite her in the ass. I was also really not a fan that she would forcefully kiss Meiner, who she did date for a small period of time for context, and then say that she knew she wanted it...no, just no.
Samuel, the only human of the bunch, was the most useless character of the bunch. I honestly have no idea why we got his perspective because he amounts to absolutely nothing in the end. He was just a guy who was obsessed with true crime and overly preoccupied with trying to get back together with Dayna. He added nothing to this story.
Finally, we have Dubh, who was honestly the most intriguing character of them all, and he was the bad guy. At first, I thought it was a bit off that there was a perspective for the villain, but he and his brother were the only things interesting about this book.
On the whole, there were just a lot of characters who angered too easily, got into trouble too easily, and were just in over their heads. At one point, after the butcher killed someone and they found the body, one of the characters actually wondered if they fell down...There is a witch hunter going around town killing people, what do you think happened? The lack of thinking just baffled me.
This didn't turn out how I wanted it to. I was hoping for an underrated gem but all I got was the realization that I should have just left this alone. If you are looking for something with a similar plot or world, I would suggest watching Teen Wolf or The Covenant instead.