Thursday, July 4, 2019

Epic Ranty Spoiler Review: The Witch of Willow Hall

Buckle in kiddies, Auntie Wendy is about to unload on The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox. If the title of this blog post hasn't clued you in, there is no way I can talk about this book without giving ALL the spoilers, including trigger warnings.

I cut my reading teeth on Gothics, loving mysteries and female protagonists as I do.  And while I'm happy to see more Gothic stories offered of late, for the love of all that is holy can we lay off the incest subplots?  Because this is the second Gothic I've read in the past month with incest in it.  Consider that trigger warning #1.

Lydia Montrose's family leaves Boston to settle in backwater New Oldbury in 1821 thanks to rumors surrounding her family.  Those rumors, as we find out later, involve her beyond vile older sister Catherine and their brother, Charles, having an incestuous relationship.  Spoiler alert: they did and it was consensual.  Anyway, Charles has been shipped off somewhere and if you think there's going to be a big showdown with him at some point in the story you are mistaken.  He firmly stays off the page and we never know what really happens to him other than he writes Catherine to say he's in lurve with a dancer.  Because of course he is.

Anyway, the Montrose family is made up of Lydia the middle daughter with "powers" she doesn't realize she has because her idiot mother won't tell her about them even though said "powers" run in the family.  There have been past episodes in Lydia's life (like when she hurt a bully who murdered her pet kitten - consider that trigger warning #2) but she's such a dolt she conveniently keeps blocking out the memories. Catherine is literal trash who does everything in her power over the course of the story to make Lydia's life miserable.  There's the plot moppet younger sister, Emeline, who is the very reason why the term "plot moppet" was coined - but never fear...she dies.  Consider that trigger warning #3.  But she's so freakin' annoying you'll be glad she's dead. (Yeah, I said it).  Mommy Dearest walks around in a denial-ridden depressed haze and Daddy Dearest is All Business All The Time and had the house built in New Oldbury to be a country home.  Well, now they're living in it and he's got a new business partner, John Barrett, who Lydia is smitten with, he's smitten with her but because this book is already highly annoying the conflict between them is basically one Big Misunderstanding after another because THEY JUST WON'T TALK TO EACH OTHER!

Lydia is the protagonist and is not only in denial about who she is, but she's the type of self-sacrificing heroine who will bend over backwards to "protect" those she loves.  Why she loves any of these vile people is beyond me, but she spends 99% of the book protecting Catherine from herself because, surprise!  Catherine is pregnant with their brother's child.  Consider this trigger warning #4.  So Catherine is literally throwing herself at every man with a pulse to get a proposal (not easy in New Oldbury), including John Barrett, and just being the worst sort of toxic person you can imagine.  And yet?  LYDIA KEEPS HELPING THIS SACK OF HUMAN GARBAGE!  There's a bunch of nonsense about protecting her frail mother as well - but seriously?  The woman who willfully closes her eyes to the sack of garbage one daughter is and does nothing to help her other daughter understand the "powers" she inherited?  Sorry if I fail to understand the need to protect Mommy Dearest.

If you're thinking that Catherine will eventually see the error of her ways or that Lydia will grow a spine - let me assure you: they do not.  Catherine goes on to miscarry the baby (consider that trigger warning #5) and begs Lydia to "take care of it" - which she does.  Then Catherine recalls a previous moment with Lydia offered her tea - only to act strangely and spill it on the carpet before Catherine can take a sip.  Yes, Lydia concocted a tea with herbs that can "take care of such things" but chickened out at the last minute.  Catherine then thinks that Lydia murdered her precious love child, which she conceived WITH THEIR BROTHER (!!!!) and ramps up her campaign to make Lydia's life miserable.  And Lydia continues to ineffectually wring her hands from the sidelines.

Look, I get it.  It's 1821.  Women didn't have a lot of agency.  But what women could and did do was find ways to manipulate the societal mores of the time to get where they wanted/needed to go.  Lydia is nothing more than a reactionary heroine who refuses to take proactive action towards making her own life better.  Instead she coddles a plot moppet younger sister and distant mother, cleans up messes left behind by her VILE older sister, and pines after John Barrett. Then to have her willfully ignore the unexplained episodes in her life (her "powers") is just...OMG, can she just die already?  Because I can't.

Since I've already spoiled everything, why not the ending?  Lydia and John do end up together.  The villain (no, not brother Charles or Catherine - it's Lydia's former fiance' and Daddy's former business partner's son!) is vanquished, and Catherine leaves the country to take her vile act on the road but that's OK because Lydia muses that she hopes her sister finds happiness (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).  And Charles, the brother who likes to have sex with his own sister and leave her to deal with consequences?  Well we don't ever find out since he never appears on page but my guess is he probably married the dancer and is living his best life - because nobody else gets what they truly deserve in this book, so why would he?

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Final Grade = D-


azteclady said...

I am...twitching. All body twitch.

Someone thought, "it's a Gothic, let's throw ALL THE GOTHIC TROPES IN!" and someone else (at freaking Harlequin, no less), said, "cool, let's publish this!"

Leigh Kramer said...

That is a pile of YIKES.

Wendy said...

AL: This is what I get for binge-ing my way through all of Simone St. James' books. Now I'm stuck floundering around for more Gothics in between her books (her next is out in February and OMG FEBRUARY IS SO FAR AWAY!)

Leigh: Yes. Yes it is.

AllieF said...

Thanks for taking one for the team! I'm a sucker for a good Gothic romance and that goes on the nopity nope nope list!

S. said...

Wow, it seems the drama would never stop. It was probably a little tiring for you to go through all that!

Wendy said...

AllieF: The books I fell in love with as a teen were Gothics and mysteries w/ female private investigators. I'm very nostalgic for both and sometimes it leads me astray...

S: All the drama would have been fine (exhausting but fine) if it weren't for the ineffectual heroine. Her lack of action drove me insane!

Sherabera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Yes. I'm listening to the story at chapter 14 and I want to slap Lydia now and tell her to grow a backbone! Argh! Taking a break from it for a bit.