Fiction, Reviews

Unhallowed by Jordan L Hawk

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Widdershins always knows its own. In blood and spirit, breath and bone.

*There may be spoilers in the content warning section below, above the summary. Tread lightly!*

Published: July 2020
Genre: Romance, Mystery, Horror, Historical Fiction, Fantasy (Magical Realism)
Representation: LGBTQIA2S+ (gay folks/mlm, polyamory); People of Colour (brown-skinned folks); Trans Author
Content Warning: reference to past child abuse; reference to past parental death; references to past house fire; violence; death, including reference to past death by fire; suffocation; sexual activity; body horror; experiences of trauma, potential PTSD; threats with a gun, including of an infant; death threats, including of children; self harm; blood; description and manipulation of corpses.

Summary

Librarian Sebastian Rath is the only one who believes his friend Kelly O’Neil disappeared due to foul play. But without any clues or outside assistance, there’s nothing he can do to prove it.

When bookbinder Vesper Rune is hired to fill the vacancy left by O’Neil, he receives an ominous letter warning him to leave. After he saves Sebastian from a pair of threatening men, the two decide to join forces and get to the truth about what happened to O’Neil.

But Vesper is hiding secrets of his own, ones he doesn’t dare let anyone learn. Secrets that grow ever more dangerous as his desire for Sebastian deepens.

Because Kelly O’Neil was murdered. And if Sebastian and Ves don’t act quickly enough, they’ll be the next to die.

— summary from Jordan L Hawk’s website

Review

Will we ever cease to be swept away by Jordan L Hawk’s fictional worlds? Unlikely. Widdershins is back with Unhallowed, the first installment of the Whyborne & Griffin spin-off series Rath & Rune, and we are completely here for it. Our endless love for Hawk’s storytelling was only affirmed by this book, which we both tore through in quick succession before professing our complete and utter obsession, along with our impatience for more. We think it’s only appropriate that our first review of Pride Month be a novel by one of our favourite writers, set in a magical-realist 1910s, with Lovecraftian horror, a cast of lovable queer and otherwise unorthodox characters, and chock-full of our number one favourite trope: found family. 

We were delighted to be thrown back into our favourite fictional town filled with supernatural horrors, complicated magics, fascinating lore, and layers of mystery. This series absolutely does stand on its own, but for Whyborne & Griffin fans, it’s love-at-first-read and a glorious welcome home. (what are you waiting for? Pick up Widdershins now!) We loved the call backs to beloved characters, running jokes, and the fact that it’s set in the city’s historic museum library is just [chef’s kiss]. Who doesn’t love library shenanigans? This book features a cast of almost-new characters, with some harkening back to side-character-fame in W&G, and others entirely unique to the series. As if W&G wasn’t imaginative enough, Hawk takes it upon himself to one-up everything we knew about the world by incorporating a new-but-not-really aspect that draws in a couple new characters we couldn’t help but fall in love with. We have two new protagonists who (obviously) fall in love, with an interesting dynamic of push and pull that made us both put down the book and scream about hopeless gays at multiple points in the novel. Although we may have come to expect the mystery-slash-horror-slash-romance that is characteristic of the Widdershins universe, nothing in the story itself (besides the romance) was expected at all, and it made for quite a thrilling jump into a new story arc that we are excited to learn more about. We were naive to think we knew all of Widdershins’ secrets – while the quirky institutions remain the same, their histories are more complex than we could have foretold. It was especially interesting to see how the story humanizes some of the town’s previously faceless historical figures. The weirdness of Widdershins goes even deeper than W&G led us to believe, and we are totally here for it.

It wasn’t the outsider versus lifelong denizen: some people understood the concept of family, blood or not, and some didn’t.

We’d venture to say that one of Hawk’s signatures is the expert interweaving of genres that makes for a thrilling and heart-felt beginning to a series. We will always be suckers for the way that these books are absolutely filled with love of all types, recognition of differences, and all-around family vibes. We love the eccentric cast of librarians and cult-survivors, and we love how they form this beautiful community characterized by queerness (in every sense of the word) and shrouded in mystery. It’s always amusing when Widdershins civilians remark on the most ridiculous and outlandish things as if they are perfectly normal, while everyone else (the reader included) is completely flabbergasted. 

The book jumped between the narratives of the two main characters seamlessly, in one of those rare instances where we enjoyed both sides of the story equally (Have you ever read a book with changing narratives where you just hate one of the characters? This, thankfully, was not that). Both the enigmatic bookbinder, Vesper Rune, and the hard-to-pin down archivist, Sebastian Rath, were interesting, to say the least, although we do have to say that we may favour Ves more than Sebastian. While it didn’t change our five-star rating, to Abarna, Sebastian was not as immediately loveable as she found him to be a little uneven at times. We think we may need to take more time to get to know him, which we’ll be happy to do. The characters were definitely engaging despite some of our early reservations. To Abarna, Vesper and Sebastian’s love story was a quicker-burn than Whyborne and Griffin’s, and while that may have initially thrown her off, it was very welcome considering the extent that these characters were completely love-starved. We are so totally here for (we say for the third time, haha) building unconventional families in the face of unpredictability and strife.

We are so excited to see where this story leads us – no doubt down another path of epic proportions, as Whyborne & Griffin did. It is exciting to see Hawk lay the groundwork for more intriguing storytelling rooted in magic, horror, legacy and love, and we simply cannot wait to devour more of what we are sure will be a fun and heart-felt series to rival Whyborne & Griffin. Our personal recommendation is that you pick up the original series first – the callbacks are so much more satisfying that way – but you can certainly enjoy it without doing so as well. We are a little scared of what horrors our beloved characters are going to be put through next – but we have faith that Hawk will stay true to the HEA format, even if the pay-off is far, far in the future. 

I’ll see you on the other side.

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