Bland and Boring or Suspenseful and Intriguing: A Review of The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
Hello, Book Nerds! Happy Spooky Season and welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life. Or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
How’s everyone doing today? Are you enjoying the cooler weather and excitedly counting down the hours till the best day of the year? I am. Anyway, I have some beautiful gothic literature for you today. Today I bring you The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox.
Spoiler alert, even though this book is supposed to be about a witch there is very little witchcraft in it. We’ll get to that, but first I must issue you a spoiler alert. If you’re a long term reader then you know I love to spoil things and today is no different; you’ve been warned.
The year is 1821, the Montrose family is fleeing Boston after scandalous rumors about their eldest daughter Catherine begin circling. But screw Catherine, this isn’t her story, our main character is Lydia. Lydia is the middle child and she’s boring.
Lydia likes to read and that’s pretty much all she’s got. Somehow she has two men fighting over her which we’ll get to, but back to our main storyline. As I said, the Montrose family had to leave Boston over some scandalous rumors. The family moves to their newly built country estate in a small, sleepy village by the name of New Oldbury. Here Mr. Montrose plans on growing a successful milling business and Mrs. Montrose plans on raising her three daughters away from Boston’s gossips.
Sadly life in New Oldbury is not as simple or idyllic as the family wishes. Scandal and tragedy seems to follow them. There’s a death in the family, Catharine and Lydia are fighting all the time, there are duels for Lydia’s hand in marriage, oh yeah, and the estate is haunted. Lydia seemingly draws these specters to her, but why? She does not know. Perhaps it has something to do with her family’s history? Perhaps she herself is the witch of Willow Hall? All she knows is she’s gonna be the one to figure out the secrets of Willow Hall.
Ok, quick spoiler, Lydia is indeed our titular witch. She doesn’t know that for a long time, but her family has a history of witchcraft. Not everyone in her family is born with power, but she certainly was.
So let’s talk about Lydia and witchcraft. As I said, Lydia is boring. There are many times where something odd occurs, i.e. she does some powerful magic unintentionally, but she never does anything about it. She claims that she’s going to research what’s going on, and then never does. Sure, one can make the argument that her attention is needed elsewhere, but she shows no agency when it comes to the supernatural elements of the novel.
I give The Witch of Willow Hall this, it’s not balls to the walls witchcraft. There’s no “black magic,” raising the dead or spells being cast every other page. The witchcraft in here is very subdued with a lot of focus on intention and herbalism. From my understanding and limited knowledge on the topic, a lot of what witchcraft actually is does have to do with intention and herbalism. I appreciate this aspect much more now than I did when I first read The Witch of Willow Hall years ago.
I still stand by my statement of Lydia is boring though, she basically wants to be a martyr. She really needs more agency. She left all the figuring things out and research, if you can even call what she does research, till the end of the book. I’m talking maybe the last 50 pages or so. Listen, this book is not action packed or fast paced, it’s very much a slow, slow burn, but not everything should have been left to the very end. Something desperately needs to happen earlier on, but nothing does.
The Witch of Willow Hall promises a gothic, supernatural read for Spooky Season, but that’s not what this is. Yes, it is gothic literature. All the genre defining characteristics are indeed there. By definition this book is a piece of gothic literature, but it lacks the suspense and dread that comes with the genre. Instead, this novel is a gothic, YA romance that just happens to be set in the 1820’s. It’s just so bland and the official synopsis makes the book sound far better than it actually is.
At this point I should turn to the love triangle; which I really shouldn’t call a love triangle. Lydia somehow gets the attention of two men despite claiming that she’s a plain person even though her description paints her as conventionally pretty. One of these men is our villain and the other one is the romantic hero. Gee, I wonder who will come out on top.
I can’t even call the romance plot formulaic. Formulaic is too nice a word for this romance. It’s just so predictable and bland! That’s the issue with this whole book. It’s bland! I have to put this picture in again cause I have no other words.
What’s not predictable is poorly done. Nothing in this book stands out to me in a good way. Events simply occur without any build up, and when an event does occur, there are no repercussions.
The Witch of Willow Hall is nothing that it claims to be. I wish I could at least say it’s atmospheric, but I can’t even claim that. The romance is dry, the historical aspects aren’t well done, the supernatural elements are few and far between; everything is subpar. I don’t typically tell you all to read a book or not, but this is one that I will tell you to skip. Just don’t waste your time with this one. The Witch of Willow Hall is a massive disappointment.
With that, I shall bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week with another new review to get you in the Spooky Season mood. I’ll see you all then.
Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.