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.
The narrator, Violet, is the new kid at a prestigious all girls school, and is immediately befriended by Robin and her friends. After a few weeks, this friend group turns out to be a part of a secret club, and Violet is invited to join the club as along as she promises to keep it a secret. What transpires is a pull-and-tug of Violet’s will, with the girls practicing witchcraft with dangerous consequences, and it all ultimately comes down to the question of, just how far will Violet go to be one of the gang? How will everything that happens, end?
This just didn’t go the way I thought it would. I found I was detached whilst reading this, because I didn’t really enjoy the book for a multitude of reasons. I wasn’t invested in the characters because they weren’t likeable or well developed, the prose was long-winded at times and it was far too slow to really get me as a reader connected to the story. I contemplated DNFing this at least 3 times, but I persevered to the end.
For me, the area that let this book down was unlikeable and poor characters, and random/inconsistent attempts of character development. The main character, Violet, wasn’t a naturally likeable character. I couldn’t stomach how little self-respect she had, albeit I understand why she had this issue, due to how she felt as a social outcast. I think it’s always difficult to engage a reader when the narrator isn’t likeable, which was what happened here. Any chance of resolving this problem was lost, as Violet was completely written off in my book after her random “sashaying hips out the room” moment (which was so random it never cropped back up…)
Ironically, I felt Robin was the most explored and completed character, despite her not being the story’s narrator. I felt her actions were understandable by the establishment of who she was as a character. However, I felt this didn’t happen for Violet, which was really frustrating and confusing. And the other two girls – Grace and Alex – were portrayed as so secondary, they felt rather irrelevant.
It felt like the book was brimming with a handful of subplots that muddled any distinction of what the overarching plot was. Even now, with it being finished, I still find this tricky. All the subplots weren’t explored enough to a satisfying level to have much of an impact. For me, it was only at about 60% to the end of the book, that was actually interesting. I found the prose throughout was too focused on describing things like room layouts, the weather etc., when it could have been used to improve the character problems.
I appreciated the use of mythology as a backdrop to the ongoings of the four main girls activities, it supported their behaviour as a foreshadowing technique and/or as a way of inducing the strong belief that witchcraft was the course of action the girls should take, to right the wrongs done to them. However, at times, the mythology/history felt a little overkill.
I liked how through the girls friendships, a psychological power was explored, for example, how people can obtain power through exerting influence over another person. I also really liked the minor twist at the end (involving the fish tank).
My advice on whether prospective readers should read this: if you like straightforward and clearly reasoned plots, I wouldn’t recommend this. Or, if you can enjoy stories that leave the reader to create motives and what not, maybe give it a go.
Overall, I read this over 2 days and I’m rating it 2 stars. There were too many problems than elements that I liked, and I was left feeling that, I most definitely wouldn’t kill to be one of them.
The Furies by Katie Lowe
Published May 2019
Genre: mystery, general fiction
*Thank you kindly to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an e-copy, in exchange for this honest review.