Review by Alixandria Thomason, author of Reading (the) Rainbow
Goblet of Fire meets Gilmore Girls meets John Tucker Must Die, but make it sapphic.
This may be my favorite book of all time right now. It’s cute, it’s sweet, there is conflict but not enough to raise your blood pressure (though other parts of this story sure will). It’s perfect for those snowy days when you can’t leave the house and want to curl up with a cup of tea and get lost in the magical world of Thistle Grove.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Emmy Harlow, our wonderful protagonist, is a witch. She’s quickly losing her powers because they are tied to her hometown of Thistle Grove, a place she ran away from the first chance she got. Though it is full of whimsy, loyal family, and a best friend she hasn’t connected with in ages, Thistle Grove is also the home of her ex Gareth Blackmoore. Gareth is the son of a powerful family (think Draco Malfoy meets your typical frat fuck boy) and also the person that broke her heart into a thousand pointy pieces. Mix this with some complicated family history and expectations, and you have the typical “get out of the small town you grew up in” trope, with added bits of magic.
Unfortunately for Emmy, she must return home temporarily to continue her familial duties of being the arbiter for a magical competition that gave me strong Tri-Wizard Tournament vibes. Her first night back, she runs into the beautiful, mysterious, bad-girl Talia Avramov.
(Ya’ll. Instant book crush. She’s got those sexy dark necromancer vibes, along with the confidence to make even the strongest among us all weak-kneed.)
After a long chat at the local bar, these two women realize that they have been slighted by the same awful man: One Gareth Blackmoore. The two of them begin devising a plan for revenge that could change the town’s legacy forever, and turn the competition on its head. Is Emmy willing to go that far?
There are so many things I loved about this book. The characters were believable and given so much depth. By the end of the book I was heartbroken to have to leave my friends in this magical town. The setting itself is described in so much detail, right down to the way it smells of crushed leaves and apple spices, that you feel like you are walking its cobblestoned streets. It’s one of those books that makes you ache to slip inside its pages and live there forever. There is also a wonderful balance of supernatural goodness and romance. The world building is solid and complex enough that it contains its own myths and legends, layered on top of our own.
I also loved that the queerness in this book was never “a thing.” Both of the main characters are bi, but it’s never brought up as an issue or even something to discuss. It just is. This was so refreshing. Their romance is a kind of slow burn with a sizzling chemistry waiting to ignite. When they finally do fall into bed together, you will breathe a relieved finally.
The writing itself is just lovely. It’s great for when you don’t want to think too much, don’t want to read into twenty layers of subtext to understand the story. It’s smooth and buttery, descriptive and melodic. You will fall easily in love with the town and the people, wrapping yourself into the story like a warm blanket.
The best part of this book is that in the end it is much less about a revenge plot and more about Emmy finding herself again. It is a beautiful coming of age story (even if Emmy is in her late 20s), a re-found family story, and a story about loves that take you by surprise and knock you off your feet.
For spice level, I would rate this one a solid 2/5. It’s not fade to black, but the intimate scenes normally only last a page or two. They are incredibly sexy though.
In conclusion, if you enjoy cozy romances with a sprinkling of magic, go read Payback’s a Witch. Even better if you can pair it with a delicious hot beverage (or iced coffee, we are queer, you know) and a pile of warm blankets.
Coming next month: The Lexington Six: Lesbian and Gay Resistance in 1970s