Southern Gothic, Anyone?: A Review of When the Reckoning Come by LaTanya McQueen
Hello, Book Nerds! 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.
I know it’s February, and I know I’m supposed to read and review romance this month, but I don’t want to! I finished with romance two weeks ago. And I want to read some horror this week! So today we’re jumping into When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen. And I will give it this, there is a wedding in the book. So we’re still somewhat romance adjacent.
As always, a spoiler alert is in order. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. When the Reckoning Comes deals with many heavy topics. Most notably, this novel has scenes involving sexual harassment and rape. This book also included torture descriptions that are not for the faint of heart. Now let’s get to the synopsis.
What happens when you attend a wedding at a plantation where countless enslaved people lost their lives just a few hundred years ago and now their spirits roam the property haunting the grounds and looking for revenge? That’s what this novel asks. Spoiler alert, this wedding weekend does not end in a happily ever after.
Meet Mira, our main character. She left her hometown the minute she turned eighteen, and she never looked back. But out of the blue, she receives a phone call from her childhood best friend, Celine. Celine is getting married! And she wants Mira there! But this wedding is taking place at the newly restored Woodsman Plantation where Mira and their other friend Jesse had a terrifying paranormal experience when they were teens. Oh, and Jesse was almost arrested for murder back then because his DNA was found at the plantation from when the two broke in.
In short, there is a lot of bad energy at the Woodsman Plantation for some obvious reasons. But despite all that happened there historically, and to her friends, Celine is adamant about having her wedding at this plantation. When the big day comes, tensions are running high. The bride’s father makes it his mission to get Jesse to leave the event, the bride goes missing, and Mira keeps seeing a mysterious woman in white among other shadowy figures.
I love the premise of this book. I stumbled across When the Reckoning Comes on one of those "Horror Books You Should Read" listicles you see around October, and I was automatically sold. The drama and stakes are high! This is a read that keeps you on the edge of your seat. But those are not the best things about this novel. Nay, nay. The best thing about this book is LaTanya McQueen’s imagery.
McQueen paints a picture so vivid that I felt like I was there. I was a fly on the wall following Mira around. Seriously, I felt like I was attending the wedding at Woodsman Plantation and driving around the small town of Kipsen. The imagery in this book is both beautiful and terrifying. McQueen did an excellent job at creating this beautiful, lush backdrop of the Woodsman Plantation to detail the terrifying, disturbing, disgusting atrocities that occurred there.
Remember when I said that there’s some torture imagery that is not for the faint of heart? Yeah…listen, I was really hoping to avoid scenes that read as a Saw movie just because that’s the type of horror I cannot do, but those things happened to enslaved people and there’s no sugar coating that, and thus it exists in When the Reckoning Comes. Good job, LaTanya McQueen, you made my skin crawl. To be honest, it’s still crawling thanks to one scene in particular. If you know you know, that’s all I’m gonna say. Again I'd just like to say this book is not for the faint of heart.
Let’s talk about something a little lighter now: the ghosts. Honestly, When the Reckoning Comes is a bit of a mindfuck at times. Especially at the end. Spoiler alert, Mira sees the spirit of one of her ancestors who was enslaved at the plantation. Marceline, Mira’s ancestor, basically showed Mira the atrocities and events that went down there in the 1860’s. But this is where things, specifically the ghosts, get confusing.
Mira time travels(?) back in time and begins seeing things from Marceline’s eyes before she magically returns to the present day and her own body. Prior to this, all the entities Mira sees are from a safe distance and she doesn’t interact with them nor do they interact with her. At first, after seeing one scene with Mira and the spirits, I thought the ghosts were going to be more of a residual haunting. For those of you who don’t binge watch ghost shows like me and don’t know what I’m talking about, a residual haunting means that the spirits are not necessarily Earth bound and are communicating with the living; instead the haunting is more of a memory being repeated.
By the time Mira actually began interacting with Marceline, we are very far along in this story, and I was very confused. Every scene including spirits is very much in the realm of being a residual haunting. Had Mira not physically interacted with Marceline, I could have believed that every supernatural thing that occurs was a residual haunting a la the Stone Tape theory.
Here’s another quick vocab lesson. The Stone Tape theory is often used in reference with residual hauntings. Basically, when something traumatic happens, you know, like torture and slavery, an energy imprint is left behind. It is theorized that certain stones and materials can absorb said energy, and when conditions are right, an image of the recorded energy is replayed. Ghost lessons over, I promise.
So are we time traveling? Are we seeing residual energy? Is this the Stone Tape theory? Is it a combination of things? Or are we truly dealing with what the synopsis claims: a group of spirits out to seek revenge for the crimes that were committed against them in life? I lean towards the last one just because it’s what feels the most likely. I’m just confused. The rules these ghosts live by are not clear, and it’s my one issue with this book. I read this novel twice in a row to try to understand the ghosts better, but I’m sadly left with more questions.
And it’s a shame. When the Reckoning Comes is a great example of Southern Gothic horror. This novel has all the hallmarks of the genre. And it proves that human kind is and always will be the scariest villain. But because I don’t fully understand the ghost rules, I can’t enjoy this read to the full extent. It deserves to be fully enjoyed, but I need ghost clarification! Please and thank you!
And on that note, I shall bid you all adieu. Thank you for joining me today, next week will be a brand new month, and I have big plans. Like big, big plans. Huge plans! Get excited, y’all!
Until next time, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.