Book Review – Wild And Wicked Things by Francesca May

Pages: 417
Published: 29th March 2022
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse, injury detail

On Crow Island, people whisper, real magic lurks just below the surface.

Neither real magic nor faux magic interests Annie Mason. Not after it stole her future. She’s only on the island to settle her late father’s estate and, hopefully, reconnect with her long-absent best friend, Beatrice, who fled their dreary lives for a more glamorous one.

Yet Crow Island is brimming with temptation, and the biggest one may be her enigmatic new neighbor.

Mysterious and alluring, Emmeline Delacroix is a figure shadowed by rumors of witchcraft. And when Annie witnesses a confrontation between Bea and Emmeline at one of the island’s extravagant parties, she is drawn into a glittering, haunted world. A world where the boundaries of wickedness are tested, and the cost of illicit magic might be death.

This book simmers with a perpetual sense of intrigue, yet is sorely lacking in substance. Despite the fact it teems with atmosphere and whispers of magic amid a Gothic historical setting, the dense style of writing and a truly aimless plot ensures that the whole thing leaves plenty to be desired, rendering it something of a missed opportunity.

The author clearly sets out to create something spooky and sapphic while also containing witchcraft, and to be fair it has all of those things, but sadly when you put them alongside the actual story it does not add up to much. In terms of genre, it definitely falls more under the umbrella of fantasy rather than historical fiction, taking place as it does in a world where magic is practiced and acknowledged by society at large.

Anne Mason has left her hometown of Whitby to stay on Crow Island and settle the estate of her estranged father, who has recently passed away. After meeting his solicitor Anderson, she is given the keys to her father’s home to document his remaining possessions, and while there she makes a startling discovery which changes everything she thought she knew about him.

Meanwhile, she has moved into the house next door to Emmeline Delacroix, an enigmatic woman believed to practice witchcraft alongside her fellow inhabitants Isabel and Nathan. Raucous parties take place frequently at Emmeline’s house, and Anne is warned by Anderson and others to keep her distance.

During her stay on Crow Island, Anne also takes the opportunity to reunite with her friend Beatrice, who is now in a toxic marriage. When she cannot resist the temptation to attend one of her neighbours’ parties, Anne witnesses a heated conversation between Bea and Emmeline. There is clearly something going on between them, and at the same time, Anne feels a magnetic pull towards Emmeline.

In fairness, there are some intelligent concepts to be found in this book, especially with the way that the world-building cultivates a sense of mystery. The problem is, there is no obvious direction to it and as such it becomes quite repetitive, with things happening at random and Anne constantly making life even more complicated for Bea and Emmeline.

The relationship between these three characters lacks a bit of backstory, which makes it harder to connect with them, whereas the sub-plot about Anne and her father is one of the most interesting aspects but does not totally fulfil its promise. Indeed, the story as a whole moves at a slow pace not helped by the writing, which rather than building tension ended up driving me into a state of boredom.

There are three different perspectives, all told in the first person. Anne’s point of view takes up the lion’s share while some sporadic chapters are narrated by Emmeline and others in the past tense by someone known as Lowther. Although the Lowther ones were unusual, they did not bring anything super enlightening to the story. The voices of Anne and Emmeline were alike in many ways, but at least Emmeline’s past was explored in some depth.

Anne is painted as a character who is rather unassuming to begin with, until meeting Emmeline gives her a spark and a sense of assertiveness. She is not the most likeable protagonist, but she is developed well beneath the haze created by the writing style, and the connection she feels towards Emmeline is more of an integral part later on, with every indication of a romance.

On the other hand, we do not really learn much about Bea at all, which is strange for a character who appears in so much of the story, and the dynamics of her marriage to Arthur are given nothing like the amount of detail it should. Isabel and Nathan are also not fleshed out, with the understated Anderson surprisingly emerging as the most compelling of the supporting cast.

The setting and the atmosphere is conveys is perhaps the standout component, as the streets of Crow Island are made to feel gloomy and Gothic, with magic treated with an odd mixture of indulgence and mistrust. Magic is accepted as fact, yet clearly disapproved of by many, and for all the faults in the writing and the plot this does have a way of enveloping you, which is where the intrigue comes from.

Upon reaching the end however, I had long lost the ability to connect with the writing style. It may have been eloquent and flowery, but it was just so dense that it slowed the story down completely and made it unengaging in the extreme. As a result of that, trying to even decipher the plot became an increasingly difficult task.

Overall, the atmospheric setting and enticing magic system are impressive, but really not enough to salvage this book from being a serious disappointment. The main characters are largely uninspiring and they are not helped by a confused plot and a writing style that took my enjoyment of the book away rather than aiding it, so it is a case of a pretty cover not being matched by its contents.

According to a comment posted on Goodreads, Francesca May has read this book well in excess of 1,000 and ‘still absolutely loves it’. To be fair, it looks like very much a case of the author writing something she would love to read, given her self-confessed interest in witchcraft and Gothic settings.

This is her debut novel, and alongside writing she works as a bookseller. She lives in Derby with her family, three dogs and two cats.

I wanted to love this one and to be honest I was intrigued for a long time, but the plot’s shortcomings became increasingly apparent and among other things, the pace was much too slow. I was relieved to reach the end.

My rating: ⭐⭐


6 thoughts on “Book Review – Wild And Wicked Things by Francesca May

  1. Great review, Stephen! This sounds like quite a messy read with lots of great concepts but lacking in the execution. I’ve seen many similar reviews as yours about this title which is unfortunate cos I know a lot of people were looking forward to it. Hope your next read is better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this review and it does sum up what I felt about the book. I did give it three stars because I loved the moody atmosphere but I was left feeling a bi ‘and????’ at the end of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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