Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

Title: The Hawley Book of the Dead
Author: Chrysler Szarlan
Publisher:  Ballantine Books (September 23 2014)
ISBN: 9780345545022
Pages: 352 pages
How We Read It: eARC
Genre: adult fiction, mystery, fantasy, paranormal, witches


For fans of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and A Discovery of Witches comes a brilliantly imagined debut novel brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic.

Revelation “Reve” Dyer grew up with her grandmother’s family stories, stretching back centuries to Reve’s ancestors, who founded the town of Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts. Their history is steeped in secrets, for few outsiders know that an ancient magic runs in the Dyer women’s blood, and that Reve is a magician whose powers are all too real.

Reve and her husband are world-famous Las Vegas illusionists. They have three lovely young daughters, a beautiful home, and what seems like a charmed life. But Reve’s world is shattered when an intruder alters her trick pistol and she accidentally shoots and kills her beloved husband onstage.

Fearing for her daughters’ lives, Reve flees with them to the place she has always felt safest—an antiquated farmhouse in the forest of Hawley Five Corners, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, and her oldest friend—and first love—is the town’s chief of police. Here, in the forest, with its undeniable air of enchantment, Reve hopes she and her girls will be protected.

Delving into the past for answers, Reve is drawn deeper into her family’s legends. What she discovers is The Hawley Book of the Dead, an ancient leather-bound journal holding mysterious mythic power. As she pieces together the truth behind the book, Reve will have to shield herself and her daughters against an uncertain, increasingly dangerous fate. For soon it becomes clear that the stranger who upended Reve’s life in Las Vegas has followed her to Hawley—and that she has something he desperately wants.

Brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic, The Hawley Book of the Dead is a brilliantly imagined debut novel from a riveting new voice.

 Our Thoughts:

As you can see from the synopsis detailed above, there is a lot going on in this novel. We found it to be a very descriptive tale with well-rendered settings and events that immersed us and made us feel we were experiencing everything right along with the characters.

This is a well-written narrative, with a truly haunting and magical flavor. Simplistically, it would at first appear that this book is a straightforward mystery thriller about a stalker out to destroy a family. However, delving deeper, one discovers that this tale is about magic - and not just stage magic - as you are introduced to a parallel world that exists just beyond the veil – fascinating! There are interesting tidbits regarding stage magic scattered throughout, as well as intriguing information about Irish mythology woven into the history of the tale.

Szarlan knows how to write, and there are some wonderful references to the more ‘everyday’ forms of magic that we all experience:

“Writing is a kind of magic. One person sits in a room alone and makes marks on a page that represent the image in her mind. Another person looks at those marks, weeks or months or a hundred years later, and similar images appear in that person’s mind. Magic.”

The character portraits are very real and relatable: the main character of Reve is really earthy, and we enjoyed her journey to discover the truth about her life. Her conflicted emotions, feelings of fear, anger, guilt, and particularly grief, felt true to life and authentic. It takes a talented writer to seamlessly relate a tale that can skillfully combine fantasy in a realistic setting, and Szarlan does an admirable job, crafting a book with a paranormal mystery, thriller elements, hints of mythology and even a touch of romance – very clever.

We would like to point out that the comparison made to A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is a bit of a stretch. Yes, they are both stories involving a mysterious book and centering on witches, but overall they are quite different. This book is less complex and has more of a ‘thriller’ feel to it. There is not as much historical detail presented, and here the magic is based on a specific ‘gift’ unique to each individual witch rather than involving actual spells per se. The working of magic is more alluded to than overt. And that’s okay – we found this book to be very enjoyable - but don’t go in expecting a Harkness (HUGE Harkness fans here) or you may be disappointed.

Although this book is the first in a series, rest assured that it does not end with a cliffhanger. This opening volume resolves nicely while leaving plenty of potential for further stories. After this solid debut effort, we look forward to what else Szarlan has in store for us with the next novels in The Revelation Quartet, for let it be said, we all need a little more magic in our lives:

“Why we no longer want to believe in magic in our real lives is a puzzle, but we don’t. The possibility frightens us, makes us retreat into the turtle shells that our rational minds are.” 

 Our Rating:
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.


  1. You guys are killing me! :) Adding to my TBR list right now

    1. Oh, I think you'll like this one, Chris!! Let us know if you read it :)