Review of Necromancy Cottage, Or, The Black Art of Gnawing on Bones by Rebecca Maye Holiday

Right in time for Halloween, Necromancy Cottage is a very readable and unconventional bildungsroman. The tone and atmosphere inspire a cozy kind of fright, as you might glean from the title.

How many times, as a kid, did I conjure in my imagination a secluded second life on a desert island or some fanciful dimension of my own? Too many to count. In fact, I still indulge in escapism. Like many novels dealing with young protagonists who are faced with challenging circumstances, we are meant to sympathize with the stuck feelings, the isolation, and the harrowing concept of growing up which consumes them. It is as if the more we learn about the world through the aging process, the more it tends to disappoint us, in the sense that it lacks the magic we wish it had. Most fantastic works take on the nostalgia for lost youth, or that imaginative faculty which enlightens the youngest members of our society. Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and The Neverending Story come to mind. But the author’s prose renders this work more mature than those examples while taking nothing away from the delight of discovery inherent in the genre. It communicates the wonders of its protagonist’s experience as a vehicle for growth.

The creepy vibe and Halloween-esque motif is well-sustained, providing the feel of Hocus Pocus or Coraline, but telling a very intimate tale at the same time, grounded in the main character’s perspective and internal monologues. We meet an eclectic cast of sorcery-obsessed folk whose arcane knowledge and quirky antics soon infect our heroine.

Add to that realistic characters explored through artful dialogue along with tight narration to get us to the primary setting quickly so the action can unfold. We get integral backstory and a sprinkling of doubt, fear, and uncertainty, adding tension and character depth. Due to the book’s impressive length, I expected some fluff, but it is well-paced, and and makes for a hearty brew of genre and literary writing, a whimsical but dark exploration of complex characters.

While the protagonist, Casey, tends to take magic in stride, she is portrayed as a sensitive and intricate individual, and the unpredictable personalities around her make for entertaining reading likely to inspire a touch of dread, considering her safety or sanity is by no means guaranteed.

Yet its sinister undertone is light enough to keep this reader hopeful and engaged. Black magic insinuates itself into the plot, and our main character adapts to her dream-like observations with the imaginative aplomb of any real-life kid who yearns for an escape, to be released from the everyday mundanity of an unmagical life.

A conjuration of menace, mischief, and magic, and an adventure simple on the surface, but concealing a darkness underneath. Every piece of the puzzle has at least two sides. An absorbing and ominous read.