When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.
Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.
Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.
I received a copy of this book for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Margaret Welty has lived a lonely life since the death of her brother, and her father left. Only having the company of her distant mother, who would disappear for weeks on end, she is a rather solitary and shy girl. But one day a man shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her mothers new apprentice. Margaret knows this to be a lie, and initially turns him away, but he is nothing if not persistent, and before long Margaret will come to realise that letting this man through her front door has far more consequences than she could have imagined. Weston Winters knows that apprenticing with Margaret’s mother is his last chance of changing his families fortunes, so when he arrives at the house only to learn she is away on a trip, he is disappointed to say the least. More so when he realises that Margaret isn’t the sort to fall for his easy charms, not that he wants her too. When Margaret asks him to be her partner in the Halfmoon Hunt, the prize money is too much for his to pass up, but neither of them know the danger that lies in store for them. or the things that will come to light the more time they spend together.
This was a book that I loved and disliked almost in equal measure, so lets start with the good stuff! Margaret and Wes are incredibly well written characters, each carrying their own hurt and trauma, though dealing with it in drastically different ways. Since the loss of her brother and father, Margaret has spent her life looking after her distant mother, keeping away from other people, and because of this she is shy and naive, but she’s also incredibly strong willed. Thanks to her heritage, she is used to being looked down on, bullied by people from the town, but she never lets them see how much it gets to her, putting on a brave face and simply turning the other cheek.
Wes is slightly more of a character. The loss of his father hit him hard and he has tried everything to provide for his family, some of whom see his goal of becoming an Alchemist as nothing more than a time waste. He is quick to flirt with an equally quick temper, and unlike Margaret, loves being in the thick of it. There are a bunch of side characters from Wes multiple sisters (who I loved) to the townspeople, as well as Margaret’s mother. They all play a part in telling Margaret and Wes’ stories, and help you to bond and empathise with our two MC’s. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Margaret’s mothers arc in the story and felt it seemed a little rushed, but it only plays a small part, so didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment.
I enjoyed the religious aspect of the story, the three main religions of yu’adir, sumic and katharists are versions of Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism respectively. Saft does a fantastic job in showing the differences between these religions, not just through how certain people are treated, but also through the Hunt for the Hala. Certain religions revile these magical creatures, where as others looks on them as a plight, creatures from a time past that need to be killed. The magic system was unique and science based, which is something incredibly rare for fantasy novels, but I truly enjoyed reading about it. We get a bit of a deep dive with Wes getting ready for the hunt, but it was well developed and I never felt in over my head.
Saft’s writing style is lyrical and I felt completely transported into the story, the only thing that let it down were the addition of some overly modern language that I felt just took me out of the story for a minute. From the fashions I would expect this book to be set around the 1920’s, even if not in this world, but some of the mannerisms and language used was far too modern and seemed out of place in the story and setting.
Now for the bits I didn’t love… The pacing of the story was massively off. I feel like it could have been significantly shorter and I would have enjoyed it a lot more. We spend a lot of time setting up for this dangerous hunt, something people have died in, and it was over in a matter of pages. The romance was also a little too jumpy for me. They spend a good portion of the book talking about how much they dislike each other, and not in the fun enemies to lovers romance kinda way, and then, when they do get together, it’s kind of an insta love situation, and I really struggled to get invested in it.
Overall, I did enjoy this book, I just didn’t love it. But if you like your fantasies romance heavy, filled with lovable characters & an intriguing magic system then look no further.