Celtic Mythology with a Magical Twist: E. Latimer’s Witches of Ash and Ruin

If you’ve been around in the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen Dahlia Alder’s article on Tor titled Season of the Witch. In it, Dahlia explains how Queer Magic in YA is trending. If you haven’t read it, go do it now, and then come back.

I’ll wait.

Did you read it? Okay, good.

Dahlia is SO right. Queer Magic is a big thing right now in Young Adult Lit, and I am absolutely here for it. We’ve gone beyond the basic coming out narrative, and we’ve moved into something new. We now have enough queer stories out there to have trends in genre, in style, in character. As someone who spent an immeasurable amount of her youth (and, let’s be honest, I still do this) on a creative writing roleplay site based on Harry Potter lore and making every character I could incredibly gay, I am the prime target for anything queer and magical. I’ve loved so many of the books that have pushed this forward in the zeitgeist: Zoriada Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, literally anything written by Amy Rose Capetta, and now I get to add E. Latimer’s Witches of Ash and Ruin to this list.

Witches of Ash and Ruin masterfully blends together witchcraft and Celtic mythology for an adrenaline-packed murder mystery. Dayna is a witchling waiting to become a full fledged witch. She and her best friend, Reagan, can’t wait to complete the ritual for their ascension. Dayna has a lot more going on besides her witch studies, though: She’s managing her OCD symptoms; her long-absent mother has returned after being sent away by Dayna’s reverend father; and she’s dealing with the aftermath of being recently outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town. When another coven with a rumored history of black magic arrives with premonitions of death, Dayna finds herself at odds with the visiting coven, particularly the granddaughter of the coven’s leader, Meiner King. As witches begin to turn up dead throughout their small town, Dayna, Meiner, and the other members of the two covens find themselves thrust into the middle of a dark ritual, knowing full well that if they don’t stop it in time, one of them will be next.

I love the characters in this story. The mental illness in Witches is portrayed very well: I believe Dayna’s panic attacks. I myself use many of the same coping mechanisms while handling my own anxiety and panic disorders. Dayna makes me feel very seen in the pages of this book. Meiner’s overwhelming anger, Cora’s desire for power over her coven, and the Callighan’s found family bond are other aspects of the characters and story that I adore. And I can’t walk away from WITCHES without talking about the representation. From mentally ill characters, to queer characters, to characters of color, this book has it all while never turning into a book full of cheap tokenization. I was particularly thrilled by Reagan and her mother Yemi, who are Nigerian and part of the Callighan coven. The level of diversity in this book, despite being set in Ireland, is really exciting.

Be prepared for a story that switches between point of view in each chapter. This book has five point of view characters: Dayna, Meiner, Cora, Sam, and Dubh. This could have been overwhelming, but Latimer uses this to her advantage. Every switch leads to a new perspective, with a different set of details and understanding of this world and the situations they are in. She’s a master at this type of narrative. It’s so fun to bounce between characters this way. Dayna, Meiner, and Cora let us know what’s going on with all the witches, the conflicts within and between the two covens, and their own psyches. Sam provides insight into the conservative Irish town and the murder investigations, since his father is the police sergeant. Dubh provides us with flashes of the witch hunters and what their dark plans for our witches may be. Each change reveals a new clue into this mystery and is absolutely necessary to the narrative as a whole. The climax of the book is intense, and I already want to get my hands on book two. You can’t leave me hanging like this, E. Latimer!

Witches filled the Diviners shaped hole in my heart; it was the perfect series to start after finishing Libba Bray’s quartet. It was delightfully dark, with characters who made me emotional and made me laugh, and the mystery is engaging. There’s a bisexual lead, Celtic mythology, mental illness representation, spooky atmosphere, and witches? Yes, please! If the rise of witchy media like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (which I just finished watching for the first time and have MANY opinions about) means we get more content like this, I am thrilled and can’t wait for more. It’s the season of the queer witch, and I hope it lasts for a very long time.

Witches of Ash and Ruin is available from Little, Brown.

Cassie Schulz is the Events Assistant for Brazos Bookstore. You can find her on Twitter @kerfufflepuff where she tweets about books, musicals, and cats. You can also find her on Instagram, co-managing the page @tag.ur.lit with a fellow queer disaster who loves YA Lit as much as she does.

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