The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…
Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.
Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.
Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.
Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.
But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.
Warnings: death of family member, murder, drownings, kidnapping, possession, dubious consent
With a story like this, about a cursed seaside town and a bloody history, the atmosphere is the main thing I look forward to, and The Wicked Deep absolutely nailed that down well. Every year, in the town of Sparrow, during the three weeks from June 1 to the Summer Solstice, young men of the town turn up dead, having been drowned in the sea. The town’s local legend speaks of three sisters who were drowned on suspicion of being witches nearly two centuries ago, and since then, every year they possess three girls of the town to exact their revenge; the event is a tourist attraction that the townspeople don’t like but tolerate.
The story is told from the point of view of Penny Talbot, who lives on the lighthouse island just off the main town, where she takes care of her grieving mother and mourns her father who went missing three years ago. This year, when a newcomer, Bo, comes to town, she takes a liking to him, and to protect him, allows him to work and live on her island. As the days goes by and bodies turn up, the secrets the two of them hold are bursting to come forth. When one of the possessed girls get caught, Penny’s friend Rosie rescues her from the vindictive boys who are out to end the curse, and thus pulls Penny in. With Penny starting to fall for Bo, and one of the other sisters out to get him, keeping him safe becomes harder than before; it also doesn’t help that he is determined to break the curse which many have tried before.
The Wicked Deep builds an aura of secrets, and the wary watchfulness that gives the plot more depth. The plot is pretty straightforward, and the reveal was sort of predictable; however, the way the story starts off slow and builds the tension for the second half was thrilling. There’s an air of danger, of storms both real and metaphorical lurking on the horizon. Even the curse starts off being possibly human murder but then strides into supernatural territory. Penny herself unveils her secrets to the reader in parts, and her difficult relationship with her town wraps it quite cleverly. As for the ending, I was quite satisfied with the resolution but I still have some reservations about the issue of consent in the story. Still, overall, it is quite an engaging and atmospheric tale, perfect for Halloween season!