Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse. A lighthouse that weathered more than storms. Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation. Coincidence? Or curse?
Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left. Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth…
But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?
Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
It’s October, which means it’s spooky season, and though I don’t usually tend to read spooky and dark stories at this time of year, I’m glad I read this when I did! And I also read it while on a short holiday in Scotland, so I appreciated the setting even more. Cooke does an excellent job at building up tension, first introducing the eponymous Lighthouse, which Liv and her daughters first arrive at on a dark, cloudy night.
‘It was a raw scene: a full moon hiding behind purple cloud, ocean thrashing against black cliffs. Gulls wheeling and shrieking above us. Trees stood like pitchfork, flayed by the wind. They hemmed the island, watching.’
The story jumps between time-periods, with Liv and her first person perspective set in 1998, her eldest daughter Sapphire also in the same year, and her middle daughter Luna, in 2021. Luna and Sapphire’s chapters are written in the third person, and part of Sapphire’s chapters have extracts from ‘The Grimoire of Patrick Roberts’, dated from the 1600s and describing the witch-burnings that happened in Lòn Haven, and the start of the myth of the wildlings. The change in time and perspective was done well, and though I would sometimes want to just get back to one of the characters, it worked well to build suspense, and to unravel the events slowly and to maximum effect. Already a few chapters in we know from Luna’s narrative that she is the only one who ever left the island, and the rest of her family is still missing. And as she is about to start a family of her own she is thrust back into the past, returning to Lòn Haven after swearing never to do so again, trying to recover her shattered memories of that time.
Of all the chapters, Luna’s were the most clunky at times, and I feel that they could have worked better in first-person, like Liv’s are, but that is a small complaint, really, and it may be that in the final version some of the phrases that felt awkward to me have been ironed out. My other complaint is that the ending felt a little too neatly resolved, which almost didn’t fit the theme of the rest of the book, but at the same time it did give me some comfort after some of the darker parts of the story.
It’s hard to talk much more about The Lighthouse Witches without revealing the plot twists, but if you need more convincing to make this one of your spooky October reads, here are some of the key tropes that make it appealing to me: small town with a dark secret, mythology woven into the story, complex mother-daughter relationships, and complicated romance. I will say that there are some pretty graphic moments, and violence towards women and children, as well as some triggers about pregnancy and miscarriages, so do be aware of that before going in. But it’s a great story and quite a quick read once you get sucked in, and I highly recommend it, especially to fans of the gothic.
Published: 30th September 2021 by HarperCollins
Genre: fiction, mystery
Narration style: multiple narrators, some first person, some third
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: miscarriage mention, violence against women and children, blood, grief