Lockdown Lesfic: Witches of Ash and Ruin, by E. Latimer

During the lockdown, we could all use an escape. And that’s exactly what Witches of Ash and Ruin offers. E. Latimer’s second novel is a story of witchcraft and women loving women – two themes that go together like gin and tonic.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is getting ready to ascend – to become a full witch. By day, she is an ordinary if unpopular student (Dayna was recently outed as bisexual, with disastrous consequences). And in every spare moment, she studies the occult with her coven. Her coven offers Dayna love, safety, and acceptance, all of which are missing from her home. This balance of cozy family life and magic is reminiscent of Bewitched.

Yet, in style and story, Witches of Ash and Ruin more closely resembles The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Dayna’s world is knocked out of orbit when dark omens begin to plague the village of Carman. Destruction and change are on the cards – figuratively. Witches are being hunted down, dying gruesome deaths.

And the witch killers are not the only threat. A rival coven led by the King Witch’s coven arrives to join forces with the witches of Carman. Years ago, the two covens were one and the same – but Harriet King was discovered practicing dark magic, for which expulsion is the punishment. And now she’s back, no less dangerous for her dementia, with two proteges vying to take over the King coven: brittle Cora, who would do anything for power, and Meiner King, who is torn between following in her grandmother’s footsteps and walking the path of light.

The witches of Carman don’t know whether the King Witches are friend or foe. But trust is a luxury they can’t afford when witches are being picked off one by one. Even without it, Dayna finds herself drawn to the tempestuous Meiner King. Though a chance encounter meant they got off on the wrong foot, there is an instant spark of attraction. The balance of this relationship quickly shifts from antagonism to ardor.

Witches of Ash and Ruin is a thrilling read. In this world, nothing is as it first appears. Fast-paced as any crime novel, the mystery of who is killing the witches and why makes it impossible to put down.

Witches of Ash and Ruin is a thrilling read. In this world, nothing is as it first appears. Fast-paced as any crime novel, the mystery of who is killing the witches and why makes it impossible to put down. At first, the narrative shift between characters is jarring but, as the story progresses, this structure builds a picture of a community. It is a living, breathing world seen through many eyes.

Unfortunately, this world isn’t wholly convincing. Witches of Ash and Ruin is set in rural Ireland. But the dialogue and word choice are North American style – Latimer lives in Vancouver. She writes of “thrift stores” instead of charity shops; “candy” instead of sweets; a “parking lot” instead of a car park. These little linguistic slips get in the way of the sense of place she is trying to create.

But, otherwise, Witches of Ash and Ruin is a highly enjoyable book. The blend of coven drama and romance is a welcome escape from the reality of life during a pandemic. Every plot twist is bigger than the last. And – best of all – the final twist leaves the door open for a sequel.