I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of A Lullaby for Witches by Hester Fox. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In A Lullaby for Witches, Augusta is starting a new job at Harlowe House, an old home of a rich family that has been turned into a museum. She grows interested in the history of this family, particularly one woman, Margaret, though no one has ever found concrete proof that Margaret even existed. But the more time Augusta spends in Harlowe House, the more strange things start happening around her. She starts to think there might be something to the rumors that this place is haunted, and wonders what this ghost might want with her. And indeed, it seems more and more clear that something, or someone, has a sinister goal.
I really enjoyed this book! I think the dual perspectives and timelines were really effective. We flip back and forth between Augusta’s life in the modern day, and one hundred and fifty years earlier, when the Harlowe family lived in the house. Seeing what went on then, and seeing Augusta start to piece it together, was so intriguing.
I also quite liked both Augusta and Margaret as narrators. Both are sympathetic and entertaining point-of-view characters. You feel for them as they deal with different issues, from problems in romantic relationships to family troubles to trying to find a place in the world as women. And as time went on, I really liked how Fox intertwined their stories, until they converged. The building sense of foreboding was fantastic, and really paid off.
Not only was the tension and suspense great, I loved the overall tone of this. Fox is adept at portraying setting, making you feel like you’re in the house or the woods with the characters, or seeing the shadows in the corner of your eye. But while I greatly enjoyed the more sinister moments, I also loved the quieter, slower moments, like when Augusta and Leo got to bond. That was a lovely relationship, and I kind of wish we could have had more time with them. Really, I wouldn’t have been upset if we’d gotten more time with most of the side characters! Leo’s mother, Augusta’s coworkers, even Margaret’s family and friends were all well-written and interesting in their own rights.
In the end, I thought that A Lullaby for Witches was a wonderful novel. It weaves together history and magic, suspense and romance, in a really entertaining way. The main characters are strong women, though not without flaws and depth, so you really feel for them. The atmosphere is haunting and vivid, and the conclusion satisfying. If you like books like The Liar’s Dictionary, The Lost Apothecary or even The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (though nothing could ever quite be on that level of excellence), you’ll like this!
Content note: discussions of someone dying from an overdose (offscreen); an instance of domestic abuse (a character shoves his girlfriend against the wall during an argument); mild sexual content and violence. This would probably be PG-13 if it were a film.
A Lullaby for Witches is published today, February 1st, 2022!