The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater (Reviewed by Shazzie)

Book Review: The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater 

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Buy The Witchwood Knot here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Olivia Atwater writes whimsical historical fantasy with a hint of satire. She lives in Montreal, Quebec with her fantastic, prose-inspiring husband and her two cats. When she told her second-grade history teacher that she wanted to work with history someday, she is fairly certain this isn’t what either party had in mind. She has been, at various times, a historical re-enactor, a professional witch at a metaphysical supply store, a web developer, and a vending machine repairperson.

FORMAT/INFO: The Witchwood Knot is due self-publication by the author on November 28th, 2023. It is told in third person from the POV of the protagonist. It will be available in paperback, ebook, hardcover and large print formats, and is the first entry in the Victorian Faerie Tales series.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater is one of those books I’m quite happy that I picked up on a whim. I heard great things about the author’s Regency Faerie Tales series, and just requested an ARC when I saw just one tweet about it from Quenby Olson. It also had a bit to do with the gorgeous cover, which I think is fitting given the content.

Winifred Hall is the new governess of Witchwood Manor, an eerie neglected place that has trouble keeping servants. That’s what is said to the father of her charge, who does not believe in the existence of faeries, and is hired by his grandmother, not to tutor him, but to protect him from the evil in the property. As she tries to work with the difficult child, she gets deeply embroiled in the Witchwood Knot, which is something that’s revealed over the course of the book, and the history of this place is a big part of her rescue attempt.

This is a short book that has an easily countable list of characters. It’s simply written and easy to follow, which I always appreciate. But, perhaps due to the fact that it is short, I felt like I could never settle in and root for any of the characters. Except for the cook, whose tenacity I appreciated far beyond the low word count dedicated to her. For most of the first half, I flipped the pages because I enjoyed the eerie atmosphere in the pages, but I struggled to connect with our protagonist, until her history was unravelled slowly.

“I am still not afraid of you – I am not even afraid of being desired. I am simply afraid of what desire becomes whenever I dare to decline it.”

I was entranced by the treatment of the faerie and human realms and their intersection in this book, as well as the eerie vibe described in the book. The highlight of the book for me was the weaving of certain lore that laid the context and history for the creation of the manor, as well as gave glimpses into the protagonist’s past. What I appreciated was Atwater’s deft depiction of the different reactions and responses that victims of sexual assault might have. At this point, I encourage you to look at a list of content warnings before picking up this book, but I also want to stress that not all of it happens on page in a graphic manner.

While it is clear what Winnie has been through and what her skills and who her close ones are, I couldn’t help but feel like the treatment of her character, in some way, was very surface-level. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what felt missing, but there should’ve definitely been something more. Look at me wishing for more words in a book. There is also a romance that wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the way it was setup just didn’t sit convincingly enough for me. 

CONCLUSION: Bottom line, The Witchwood Knot could serve as a great introduction to the cozy and fun works of Olivia Atwater, which are beloved by so many. It is fantastically gothic, and has a good amount of faerie lore. While it didn’t work for me on several counts, it was still a fun whimsical historical fantasy I enjoyed as a bedtime read.

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