Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you. Only the Luminaries, a society of ancient guardians, stand between humanity and the nightmares of the forest that rise each night.
Winnie Wednesday, an exile from the Luminaries, is determined to restore her family’s good name by taking the deadly hunter trials on her sixteenth birthday. But when she turns to her ex best friend Jay Friday for help, they discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.
Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to return her family to their former glory and take her place as a Hunter in the Wednesday clan, because in Hemlock Falls, Nightmares aren’t only contained to dreams. Monsters walk the forest after nightfall, and the Hunters are tasked with killing them to keep the town safe. Exiled from the clan, Winnie has to sneak into the forest to perform the first task that will see her become a Clan Hunter, but what she see’s there terrifies her more than she could ever imagine. Working with her ex-bestfriend, Jay Friday, Winnie is determined to investigate the Nightmare she saw in the Forest that night, sure that Hemlock Falls is in more danger than anyone will want to admit. But she quickly comes to realise that not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
Ok, so flashback to twitter 2019 and Susan Dennard decided to do a ‘choose your own adventure’ style post focused on a girl called Winnie Wednesday that absolutely took off, shoot to now and we get to follow her again and I, for one, couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book and dive straight into Hemlock Falls. Winnie is the perfect POV to follow this story from. For the last 4 years she and her family have been ostracised from the Clans, with only a select few people deigning to acknowledge their existence. But when Winnie sneaks into the first Hunter trial and succeeds, all of a sudden she gets thrust into the limelight, her family are no longer outcasts but slowly working their way back into the life of the Luminaries. At first Winnie is delighted, this is all she’s wanted, to see the spark back in her mothers eyes, to see her and her brother welcomed back to the Wednesday estate with open arms, but the longer it goes on, the more annoyed she gets, the more she see’s the hippocracy of it all, how easily the Luminaries went from outright ignoring them, to engaging with them all again as if nothing had happened. It’s incredibly easy to empathise with Winnie, she’s feisty, not afraid to get her hands dirty, but she’s also someone who just wants to make her family happy, wants so much to belong again, but once let back into that world, starts to see the the true darkness to it.
The setting for this story was wondrously dark and creepy. Hemlock Falls is one of several places throughout the world where ‘Nightmares’ creatures such as manticores, kelpies and werewolves appear at dark through a magical fog that encases the forest. The seven clans of the Luminaries, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, all play their part in hunting the Nightmares, researching into them, protecting the non’s, people who aren’t Luminaries but live in the world, and mundanes, regular humans who have no knowledge of the Luminaries, from the dangers that lurk in the forest. The world was incredibly well built, and thanks to Winnie’s near eidetic memory for the Compendium, we get to learn plenty about all the different kind of Nightmares that prowl the forest, as well as all the Clans responsibilities within the luminaries.
Dennard has a knack for writing incredibly well paced stories, filled with tension, drama and emotions, and The Luminaries was no different. During Winnie’s trials to become a Hunter, her time in the forest, the tension bleeds off the pages. She’s the MC, so we have a good idea no real harm will come to her, but Dennard still manages to put that niggle of uncertainty into our heads every time she gets into some sort of trouble. Her writing style brings Hemlock Falls, the people and Nightmares that inhabit it to life and some of my favourite scenes were the ones where we see our characters in some kind of battle, something Dennard is extremely skilled in writing. But I also loved how much time we spend in Winnie’s head. Seeing her internal warring and indecision over how easily the Luminaries have let her back into their ranks, their absolute lack of acknowledgement of the past 4 years, but also her desperate need to become a Hunter, give her family back their lives, live up to all the Wednesday’s that have come before her.
Ugh Jay was exactly the kind of brooding, swoon worthy, heartthrob my teenage self would have adored… and my adult self adored him just as much. After Winnie begrudgingly asks him for help to catch up on the four years of training she missed out on, they end up spending a significant amount of time together, fighting, sweaty, and it doesn’t take long for Winnie to start to realise just how much Jay has grown into a man in the last four years. But, like with the other Luminaries, Winnie finds it hard to trust him fully after he dropped her so easily when her family became outcasts. Something that adds tension to their scenes, as well as making their relationship wondrously slow burn. Their scenes together were hilarious, but also a little steamy in parts, and I cannot wait to get more of them in the next book.
Dennard did a wonderful job of winding this story line up, whilst leaving lots of little plot points open for the next book, and I have so many theories, about things I can’t talk about because… spoilers. I loved the ‘choose your own adventure’, which Susan is running on her twitter again if you’re interested, but I adored the book so much more and suffice to say I am desperately eager to get my hands on the next book.