Oh hello. Is this day one of another awesome tour?! Why yes, yes it is. Welcome. Now, first things first… have we all sworn our sacred blood oaths?
Okay, fine. No blood oath necessary.
Today I’m featuring an intense thriller filled with just a few of my favorite things. Cults, secrets, dark magic. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to pick up this bad boy, here are my top five reasons to read The Bitterwine Oath.
5. Wicked Atmosphere
I loved how the setting jumped from sleepy Texas town to creepy haunted forest. It really helped show how the people in this town experienced different realities depending on their perspective. And even further highlighted Nat’s own shift throughout the novel.
This juxtaposition between dark and light is marked right from the start. We open with notes from Lillian, one of the girls in the original mysterious deaths. From the start, she tells us of the darkness that is coming. But, we then go to the lighter, breezier present day and all of that feels like nothing more than a myth. Circumstances misinterpreted and coincidence unexplained.
As our understanding between truth and legend becomes clearer, the menacing edges start blurring more and more, until every scene is just crawling with dark delicious tension. By the end, every scene drips with imaginary fog, deep shadows, and monsters lurking around every corner.
4. Dark magic
Any kind of magic tied with gruesome murders and a mysterious cult is a winner for me. I mean, come on. Is magic even fun if it doesn’t have some dark, destructive forces behind it?
Okay, fine. It can be fun without being murderous. But I get the best of both worlds here, a lovely blend of questionable grey. West weaves a tight thread where it’s impossible to tell what’s right or wrong, good or evil, throughout the entire narrative.
While it may be easier for older readers to tease apart these delineations, I think that for teen readers, the questions raised are fantastic for opening fantastic discussions. How to fight for what we believe in, and when to see that we’ve been misled. Is it always easy to see through labels of good or bad, especially when they’re steeped in decades of belief? It’s murky, and even when Nat comes to one conclusion, she has to wade through another set of difficult questions all over again.
I am a sucker for monsters. And this book has legit monsters. They aren’t just creepy things skulking around that could be easily explained. These are rotting corpses forced into animate being from some dark magic gone wrong.
But of course, it isn’t just the actual monsters that are monstrous in this book. In sticking with the blurred lines of good and evil, wrong and right, there are multiple situations where good people behave in monstrous ways. In terms of sparking conversation and getting readers thinking, these are honestly my favorite kind of monsters. It’s easy to vanquish evil. But to unravel human nature? That’s the good stuff there.
2. Badass girls
Is this even a surprise?! The blurb told me there was a sisterhood of wronged women in a secret cult. And that they might be magical. How can I not be in?
There are layers to these badass girls. Even the ones accused of being evil, they refuse to cower and be afraid in the face of that particularly horrifying type of evil––the one that lives in the hearts of people. And while I love a story where girls take action, there’s another type of badass raised and examined. Taking action is easy, but fighting through peace and surrender takes a whole level of brave that we don’t always see in plots.
Nat doesn’t fight for the sake of fighting. Don’t get me wrong, she gets in plenty of scuffles with monsters both human and not. But she also is willing to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Sometimes fighting means using what you know and other times, it’s figuring out what you don’t. And I loved that this book explored all the different facets of strength, not just in Nat, but in all the girls and women of the town.
1. An intriguing mystery
The mystery wrapped in decades of legend mixed with a history of violent rumors is the best thing about this book. Magic and monsters and badass girls aside, I kept turning the pages because I had to know what was going to happen next. This isn’t a quiet mystery where answers unravel in a slow but satisfying way. We’re on a bullet train hurdling through the dark.
West creates incredible tension. Even when we know what the truth is, there is no way of knowing how the story is actually going to end. Not to mention, there are layers of truth here as well. Some things are cut and dry, but others? It’s harder to see through decades of history and belief.
Overall, The Bitterwine Oath is a fast read. It’s fun, tense, and full of creepy delights. There were parts that read slower than others, mostly in the first half. But once we get to the second half, the story will likely have its claws deeply entrenched.
I personally liked that while there was a bit of a love story, it wasn’t the main focus. And I liked how it ended on a bittersweet note that was fully badass girl empowering.
Three and a half stabby stars.
Thank you TBR & Beyond Tours and Holiday House for sending me a copy and including me on this tour.
Be sure to check out the rest of the tour for more reviews, top five listicles, playlists, mood boards, and more!
Every fifty years, a cult claims twelve men to murder in a small Texas town. Can one girl end the cycle of violence – and save the boy who broke her heart?
San Solano, Texas is a quaint town known for its charm, hospitality, and history of murder. Twice now, twelve men have been brutally killed, and no one knows who did it. A shadowy witch? A copy-cat killer? Or a man-hating murderess? Eighteen-year-old Natalie Colter is sure that the rumors about her great-great-grandmother’s cult of wronged women are just gossip, but that doesn’t stop the true crime writers and dark tourism bloggers from capitalizing on the town’s reputation. It’s an urban legend that’s hard to ignore, and it gets harder when Nat learns that the sisterhood is real, and magical. And they want her to join.
The more Nat learns of the Wardens’ supernatural history, the more she wonders about the real culprits behind the town’s ritualistic murders. Are the Wardens protecting San Solano from even darker forces? As the anniversary of the murders draws near, the town grows restless. Residents start getting “claimed” as this year’s planned victims, including Levi Langford, the boy whose kiss haunted Nat for a year.
Nat knows that no one is safe. Can she and the sisterhood stop the true evil from claiming their town?
Hannah West is the author of young adult books including The Nissera Chronicles series and The Bitterwine Oath. She’s been writing fantasy since kindergarten, when she penned her first tale about a princess who ran away and lived at the top of a flagpole with two loaves of bread. But it wasn’t until she studied abroad in Orléans, France during college that the premise for her first novel materialized. The fairy tale castles, the snowy winter days, and a Disney princess pencil that arrived in a care package from her parents provided the inspiration that allowed her to wrangle all her untold and unfinished stories into a novel.
Hannah currently lives in the Dallas area with her husband and their two rambunctious rescue dogs.