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ARC was given by NetGalley & Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published before the release date (August 2nd, 2022)
Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, grief, mentions of cancer (in the past), trauma/PTSD. mentions of divorce, injured animals, death of an animal, depictions of blood, graphic injuries, panic/anxiety attacks, brief scenes of bigotry (towards witches)
Friends, I can’t believe I read this book in only one day! I’m truly shocked. Aside from graphic novels, I haven’t come across a book that captured my attention the way this book did. Even when I sat this book down to go do little mundane things or even to take a reading break, my thoughts were occupied with the content of this books. It must have been the owl or perhaps the loathe to love romance, or maybe it was an impending curse that was on the verge of unleashing chaos. Well, I guess you’ll just have to find out which one it is.
“There is magic in my blood, but this place has its own kind of magic.”
With the past constantly hanging over her head, Iris Gray just wants to start over with her mother, in a small town in Washington with their wildlife refuge, Foggy Mountain Wildlife Refuge. However, even starting over can have it’s challenges and it comes in the form of one person named Pike Alder. These two don’t see eye to eye and when one day the news talks about a person from Iris’s past, the commentary from Pike leaves Iris chilled to her core. With fear seeping into her bones every second, Iris decides to do an old ritual her grandmother used to do and give a curse to the earth. But fate has other plans when a northern spotted owl interferes with her ritual, Iris is thrown into an adventure unlike any other to prevent the curse from being unleashed.
“This doesn’t have to end in darkness, in a vote that will make all the magic of the universe flicker and dim, until it finally goes out. There are other endings, and I will find one.”
One of my all time favorite things is when a character is morally grey, they’re flawed, make mistakes, and we get to see the multitudes that character contains. The author does that with our main character, Iris. Iris was such a easy character for me to love because there were so many moments where I saw myself reflected in Iris. And the thing that stuck out to me the most was how protective Iris is of everyone and everything she cares about. That just did me in with my love for her. I’m a very protective person myself and seeing that reflected in Iris just solidified my draw to her as a main character. Pike, on the other hand, was a different story. I wish we saw more of Pike’s character or at least saw more layers to him. He almost felt flat to me due to lack of details and that’s excluding the major key moments with him. Outside of the major scenes between Iris and Pike, Pike just didn’t have enough details to him as I would have liked and he kind of came off as a jerk the majority of the time. What ultimately made me like Pike was the details that were poured into his love for birds. I have a big soft spot for bird lovers for sentimental reasons and throughout this book we see Pike’s devotion to birds and how much he truly values them. However, together the build of the chemistry between one another was something to savor and that’s all I’ll say on that.
Speaking of characters, there’s also a sapphic relationship in this story. Iris’s mother, Isobel is in a relationship with her long-time friend, Sarah. Sarah actually runs a local breakfast café in the same town. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I love a good story with a café and wildlife refuge with some small town vibes. Seeing Isobel and Sarah in little moments sprinkled throughout the book was a lovely touch, but I really wish we could have had more moments. However, I loved the chemistry between them and it the small moments we see them together, they just feel perfect for one another.
“I want to forget it. I want to forget because it was so heartbreakingly kind, because for a single second, it made me wonder what it might be like to be fully accepted. Fully known.”
I will say the magic and magic classes were fascinating to read about. I’ve read a lot of books that have witches in them and to me, this book feels very accurate to how I picture witches. In this book, there are three different classes of witches and there is a council of witches who maintain the balance with witches, and regular society. The first class of witches are the Solars. Solars are witches who work with plants and you can usually find them working jobs in agriculture or like Sarah who runs her own café. The second class are Lunars, who are witches that work with animals like our main character and her mother. And the final class are the Stellars. This particular class are highly powerful and considered dangerous as their powers center around people. Mostly, Stellars are all part of the witch council and we also have a side character, Cassandra who is not only an old family friend of Iris and Isobel, but also plays a role in key moments throughout this story. As I said, the magic system was fascinating and we learn how there’s a natural balance that’s bigger than people and witches themselves. Plus, the little pieces we get about how witches view owls just sent my heart flying to the moon.
“That’s the thing about magic: people want to see it and feel it almost as much as they want to dismiss it entirely.”
Speaking of owls, let’s talk about our little mischievous friend. One of my all time favorite elements any author can do in a book is have an animal side character who interferes with everything. As a lover of owls and as someone who has worked with them, I was in absolute heaven! This little owl was an absolute delight throughout this entire story and I love how the owl kind of throws our main character into a whirlwind of chaos, and just thrusts her into an unexpected adventure that forces Iris to work with Pike. Seeing the owl’s full plan and intentions come full circle at the end was truly everything and honestly, I think the owl was my favorite character of the book. Plus, the name the mc and Pike gave to him, MacGuffin! Ugh, my heart is just so full from this owl.
“I have to squint to see him, his shape nothing more than a shadow in the dusty twilight, but sitting in an old spruce tree is the northern spotted owl. Silent, still, and watching. Always watching.”
Also, before I forget to mention, the themes of grief that are laced throughout this book were chef’s kiss. Truly, it was fantastic. We not only see the side of grief from the loss of a loved one and how that can stay with us for years, but we also see the side of mourning the living and how we can harbor the grief from the painful things the living can do to us or have happened to us. I loved that we get to see both sides of grief and I also love how we see grief and trauma/PTSD laced in together with one another. I thought all of this was really well done and well written, and these themes are laced throughout this entire book. So anticipate seeing these themes frequently and how those themes impact Pike and Iris.
“That’s one of the worst casualties of being hurt by someone who was never supposed to hurt you: you start to question all the beautiful things that led up to the ugliness, start to wonder if some of the moments you thought were perfect were actually painted with a dirty brush.”
I know I’ve been kind of gushing about the things I loved, but I do want to talk about some of the things I wish were left out or just not in to begin with. One of those things being second-hand embarrassment which is a dead zone for me in books. Second-hand embarrassment truly is a mood killer for me when reading and can be really hard for me to recover from. There were two moments revolving around a condom and while I praise safe coitus, the way those two particular scenes were handled in a joking manner really had me cringing. Not only was the main character mortified and embarrassed both times, but that embarrassment overlapped into my own mortification and second-hand embarrassment while reading. Now this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. I’m a very serious person with majority of things. So I don’t really hold it against the author for including these two scenes, but I definitely wish they weren’t in or just left out from the beginning. Circling back to what I mentioned previously, Pike’s character was the other thing that bothered me the most. I really wanted more from his character and as I said, majority of the time his character came off as a jerk despite the few sweet moments and the major key scenes where we’re learning things about Pike. I think his character could have had more depth to him and he just felt closed off the majority of the time.
Overall, I’m still long-winded from this book and how much I adored it. There was so much to love in this book from the small town vibes to the magic, and of course you have the trope of loathe to love. There’s just so much this book did and it delivered it so well. I think this is going to be one of those books that makes a lot of top books of 2022 (spoiler, it made mine) and I think a lot of readers are going to be anticipating this book’s release. If you’re looking for a book that’s whimsical, magical, and has an adventure that’s sure to suck you in, then I recommend this book with my whole chest. Plus the cover is just stunning!
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.