From the desk of Molly Greeley:
Three women, separated by time but connected by blood and the strength of their unusual powers. An ageless, sinister, smooth-talking minister who stalks each of them in turn. A setting—the Ozark Mountains—as steeped in magic and folklore as it is in natural beauty, where compasses refuse to point North and where ghosts hide in shadowed hollows. From its very first page, Paulette Kennedy’s The Witch of Tin Mountain sets itself up as an enthralling work of Gothic fiction—and none of the pages that come after disappoint.
One Women’s Legacy
Told in alternating chapters by three generations of women, The Witch of Tin Mountain is very much about how women make their way and take hold of their own power in a world determined to see them powerless. The story opens from the perspective of Anneliese, a woman on the cusp of being burned for witchcraft:
“It is too late for her. She knows this, and so she finishes her writing, scrawling the last few lines of hurried script across the parchment. A shout comes from outside, followed by the steady rumble of male voices. Her son ceases spinning his top across the floor and looks up at her, his brown eyes limpid with fear.” (xi)
Anneliese’s perspective, after the opening scenes, is mostly confined to entries in the grimoire she has passed down to her female descendants and to the flashes of insight to which those descendants are sometimes privy. Yet what happened to her is the fulcrum upon which what happens to her descendants rests, the consequences of her life’s terrible end reverberating across the century that follows.
A Traveling Preacher Arrives
The rest of the story is told by two of Anneliese’s descendants: Gracelynn Doherty, a young woman living in the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression, and her granny Deidre, whose perspective is set fifty years earlier. Gracelynn, like Deidre, has a gift for healing, and when a traveling preacher named Josiah Bellflower comes to town offering promises of prosperity and divine healing to all who follow him, she is concerned both that his coming might cut into her own livelihood and that he will turn out to be as much of a charlatan as other, similar preachers who have made their way through the community on Tin Mountain. But when she attends one of the preacher’s revivals, Gracelynn discovers that there is something worse than a charlatan hiding under Bellflower’s smooth talk and handsome face.
“There’s something funny about him—unnatural. Up this close, there’s a brutality to his rangy good looks. My skin crawls. As if he can feel my eyes on him, Bellflower turns to me, his pupils widening until they swallow up the inky brown around them.
“A low hum starts in my ears and reverberates all through me. My head pings with sudden pain and the light in the tent flickers like a candle. The congregants’ voices fade to silence. Where Josiah Bellflower should be, I see only spinning shadows—a writhing blackness with nothing human at its heart. I ain’t never had a real vision, only dreams, but I think I’m having one right now. Granny was right. There’s more to Josiah Bellflower than a Holy Roller preacher who likes big words.” (35)
Unraveling the Family’s Past
Gracelynn’s granny, Deidre, knows that Bellflower cannot be trusted because she’s met him before. Fifty years ago, he came to Tin Mountain just as he has come today, but back then he had a different name and wore a different face. Their meeting nearly destroyed Deidre, and now she’s afraid that he has returned, as he once promised to do, in order to reap what he sowed so long ago. And when Deidre falls into a coma, and Tin Mountain falls victim to a relentless heat wave, it’s up to Gracelynn to unravel the threads of her family’s past and figure out how to confront the man who has been using generations of her family’s women for his own unholy purpose.
A Seamlessly Interwoven Tale
I am personally not always a fan of dual timeline novels, finding that I often am more interested in one narrative than another. But Kennedy writes her characters so deftly and intertwines their stories in so seamless a way that I was never thrown when the timeline shifted. She uses the dual timelines to great effect, building the mystery that has haunted the women in Anneliese’s family since her death, creating a page-turner of a novel that is as shiver-inducing as it is thought-provoking. Her characters are not Mary Sues, but are strong, passionate, powerful women who nevertheless are fully human and sometimes mess up—badly. I loved this about Deidre and Gracelynn—they were at once relatable and aspirational, not an easy combination to write.
Atmospheric Gothic Effects
The setting, too, is so richly depicted that readers will practically be able to see the fog and taste the coming storms. Kennedy uses changes in the weather to perfectly Gothic effect and peppers her novel with local speech patterns that serve to further situate her readers firmly in the Ozarks. Tin Mountain is so much a part of a story that it is almost like a character itself.
A Fully Immersive Story
And that is, truly, the greatest strength of this book—the vividness with which Kennedy creates the world of her characters. In the afterward, Kennedy writes that she herself grew up in the Ozarks, and her familiarity with her setting makes for a fully immersive story; the brush with which she paints the mountains and the community that lives there drips with authenticity, her deep love for this place and its people shining from every page. The Witch of Tin Mountain is a haunting story that readers won’t soon forget.
5 out of 5 Stars
GUEST REVIEWER BIO
Molly Greeley is the author of two books of Austenesque fiction, The Clergyman’s Wife and The Heiress, as well as a forthcoming work of historical fiction, Marvelous, about the real-life couple who inspired the fairy tale The Beauty and the Beast. She lives in northern Michigan with her husband and three children, where she divides her time between homeschooling, working for a local business, and writing. Marvelous releases February 28, 2023. Visit her at her website.
- The Witch of Tin Mountain, by Paulette Kennedy
- Lake Union Publishing (February 1, 2023)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (331) pages
- ISBN: 978-1662507625
- Genre: Historical Suspense, Gothic Fiction
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Lake Union Publishing © 2023; text Molly Greeley © 2022, austenprose.com.