“This world devours those who are too bold – but those who hide and refuse to take risks are also taken unaware by danger.”
Atwater has proven that she can nail the cosy and fairytale-esque fantasy vibe with her wildly successful Regency Faerie Tales series, but now she’s back with her unique take on a gothic fantasy tale. The Witchwood Knot is a deliciously dark and delightfully quirky gothic fairytale full of devious Fae, sinister settings, creepy mirror/dream realms, whimsically soft magic, and a little dash of slow-burn and innocent romance.
This story follows Winnie Hall, who has just been assigned the (admittedly much dreaded) position of governess at the haunted Witchwood Manor. Officially, she is there to look over the young and haughty lord-to-be, Robert Longfellow. But in reality, the dying dowager has called upon her for her skill as a magic practitioner, in the hopes that Winnie can rid the house of its curse once and for all.
Now, I knew I was going to be in for a wonderful time when this book opened with a doorknob biting Winnie’s hand. Right from the get-go, there’s this alluring air of mystery and intrigue permeating every aspect of the story which kept me completely entranced from start to finish. Atwater absolutely nails the gothic atmosphere and I loved the eerie descriptions of the haunted manor.
I wouldn’t say that this story is ‘all vibes, no plot’, but I do think that the vibes are significantly stronger than the plot. The whole unravelling of the mystery surrounding the Fae haunting/curse at Witchwood Manor and its mirror faerie realm was rather weak to me, though I did really appreciate how it brought forth difficult themes of generational trauma, cycles of (sexual) abuse, and the dangers and casualties of male greed. And I have to admit, for some reason I personally didn’t really mind the slightly odd pacing and weaker plot, because all the other aspects of the story were just so strong to me that I was still fully immersed.
Winnie is such a strong and loveable protagonist, and she immediately secured a place in my heart with her no-nonsense attitude and witty remarks. She definitely still has a touch of those prim and proper Victorian sensibilities, yet at the same time she has surprising emotional depth and is refreshingly tenacious, resilient, and defiant. Most of all, I just really appreciated that she didn’t fall into the meek wallflower stereotype like so many other women in Victorian Era-inspired stories do. Also, I know it won’t sound too flattering to say this, but I related deeply to her slight (but really not so slight) dislike of young children.
The character dynamics were also just so fun and heartwarming, and I especially loved the budding relationship between Winnie and the enigmatic Mr. Quincy. He is not the most likeable character at first, yet at the same time he’s frustratingly alluring and charming, which allowed him to somehow just creep up on me. I loved how they slowly softened each other’s sharp edges and almost reluctantly built up some affection and love for each other. The romance element is much more understated than in the Regency Faerie Tales books, but there is just a little dash of it that made even my cold heart melt a little.
This story is definitely much darker than any of the author’s previous works, yet there is still that quintessential Atwater quirkiness that makes this just an utterly delightful read in the end. I mean, there’s even an undead cat familiar, how could you not fall in love?! And because this series is set in the same magical world as the Regency Faerie Tales, there are also some quite exciting, and rather big, easter eggs for those who have loved that series.
While this story is very self-contained and works perfectly as a standalone, I am now eagerly awaiting more of these gothic Victorian Faerie Tales. Equal parts unsettlingly eerie and delightfully whimsical, The Witchwood Knot is everything you could wish for from a dark and fairytale-esque gothic fantasy. Highly recommend!
Thank you to NetGalley and Starwatch Press for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.