“I’VE GOT A SECRET!”
Not only is this book the debut entry in Horn’s Witching Savannah series, it appears to be his debut entry into publishing. And it is a fine entry on both counts. I don’t usually expect to give a 5-star rating to a first novel, but this book earned it – reading it in one day and into the wee hours of the morning, it earned it.
The Taylor family in Savannah is a family of witches. In fact, they are essentially the founding fathers of witchdom in this section of the world, very powerful and one of only 13 such families in the world. As such, their most powerful living member has historically been entrusted with one of the 13 anchor positions that protect the Line, a supernatural web of power that keeps the world of witches separated and protected from the world of demons.
As the story opens, we are introduced to our protagonist, Mercy Taylor, a 20-year-old who is the first non-witch to be born into the Taylor family. And she is despised, openly ridiculed by most family members, but not just for being born without power. She is despised for being born at all, the underdeveloped and second of female fraternal twins. Having never identified the father and choosing that second baby’s life over her own, Mercy’s mother dies shortly afterward. Mercy, only a few minutes old, is instantaneously reviled for causing the death of another witch and leaving her powerful newborn sister motherless.
At least the family didn’t take her out to a distant field and leave her to die. But she is motherless, fatherless, powerless and despised in favor of the first-born twin who is not only beautiful and loved but has power to spare. However, no one in the family hates Mercy more than Ginny Taylor, her mother’s aunt and the ruling Anchor of the Line.
Even though Mercy is only 20 years old, this is not a YA novel. Because of the pitiful and abusive treatment by most everyone other than her twin, she is mature far beyond her chronological age. She does not feel sorry for herself, has a great personality, loves her sister dearly and even owns her own small business. She is smart and kind and honorable. And like the Serenity Prayer beseeches, she has learned to accept a situation she cannot change. However, it is her courage to change one thing about herself that sets the novel’s plot in motion.
Knowing that she cannot expect any help from her family and knowing that she is not wanting to control anyone’s behavior but her own, Mercy seeks out a spell from the local Hoodoo queen, Mother Jilo. The Anchor, Ginny Taylor, seems to know about this action immediately and demands an accounting from Mercy the next morning. When Mercy arrives at the house, she finds Ginny’s body, horribly murdered.
Now with a murderer to find and a new Anchor to choose, the Taylor family comes under scrutiny by both the police and the other families that tend to the Line. At this point, the novel takes off because the family has secrets on top of secrets buried within secrets.
The author has written a well-crafted paranormal mystery. While there are no vampires or werewolves hanging about, there are shadow demons, golems, ghosts, hoodoo practitioners and witches with a vast variety of skills. The story flows from scene to scene with dialogues and internal monologues that are realistic and on-point. The world-building is systematic and detailed only to the point of explaining just what is needed at the time it is needed. There are some editing errors such as missing punctuation and misplaced words. However, they are few in number and only minimally impact the reading experience.
Because I did read it in one day – with only three breaks – and stayed up until one a.m. to finish, I would like to recommend that another reader do it differently than I did. There are just too many secrets, that when exposed, create a new path for the plot to take. I would suggest that the reader break the book up into at least 2 days in order to sleep on the nature of the secrets revealed and the twists to the plot that they engender. By the time I finished the book, I realized that I had been so engrossed that I had read too quickly to fully anticipate and appreciate the final chapters.
Cover Art from Goodreads