I don’t remember when or how A Lullaby for Witches by Hester Fox came into my life, but I am happy to turn the final page on this adventure. This story had a rocky start, and although I gave it a fighting chance, it, unfortunately, did not get much better.
The first point of view comes from Margaret Harlowe in 1876. She is the only daughter of a well-to-do family and has three older, successful brothers. Margaret is left to her own devices, and she spends her time collecting ingredients to secretly assist the townsfolk that visit her at night. In the present day, Augusta is an insecure twenty-something working at a dead-end job giving tours at an old jailhouse in Salem. Her relationship with her boyfriend has become one of convenience, and she dreams of using her museum studies degree for something better. That is how Augusta ends up at the historic Harlowe House for an interview to become the site’s collections manager. Here, Augusta finds that the once prominent house may have ghosts, and the original family’s mysterious daughter still has a story to tell.
Now listen, I don’t think this book was about witches. And if it was, there was maybe one witch named Margaret who ultimately did not do that much witchy stuff. And if she did? Well, I did not read about it on the pages in this ARC I received. Upon reflection, the title of this story is confusing as well. There were snippets of a folksong that appeared before Margaret’s chapters, but I would argue it was not a main staple of the story. I was incredibly annoyed at one point when Augusta seemingly pulled said folksong out of nowhere and claimed it sounded familiar. However, when asked how she knows the song, Augusta cannot back it up. The reader is left to accept the song’s apparent significance even though it is never mentioned again. And here begins my bottomless frustration and confusion with this story.
My biggest issue with the book is how underdeveloped everything is. The ideas, characters, and dialogue are stunted and never hold any weight. It’s like the story was half-baked, and while I do love raw cookie dough, Lullaby would have done much better if it had been cooked to its full potential. For instance, there are many references to Margaret using dark magic, yet we never see her use it. It is hard to buy into her being a powerful witch when she spends more time looking for ingredients than actually using them. The book tried hard to convince me that it was a lot more dark and mysterious than it actually was, and it failed to back up its daring claims.
I was also frustrated by the shallow and careless approach given to major issues and conflicts. This occurred most notably around a character’s eating disorder, another’s incestuous infatuation, and a physical abuse incident. The issues our characters face seem to be created out of thin air in an attempt to matter at that moment but are quickly forgotten by the next paragraph. Truthfully, I felt icky while I read these passages. These issues and other points of contention are thrown out there to be used and discarded as needed. They felt like token shock value moments to heighten the stakes, but without the weight and implications behind them, everything fell flat. The book lacked meaningful context around these incidents, and it did not sit well with me.
I feel like an outsider because the reviews I see for A Lullaby for Witches are high. And if you pick up this book and enjoy it like the rest of these readers then I am happy for you. However, I am firmly rooted in my experience and can confidently say I did not enjoy this odd, misplaced tale.
Rating: A Lullaby for Witches – 3.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.