Genre: YA Fantasy/Romance
Stars: 4-1/4 out of 5
Synopsis from Goodreads: When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.
Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.
Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.
This beautifully written new YA title is everything I’d want in a book. At times adventure-packed, with references to history and myths that are at once brand-new and yet familiar, a slow-burning romance between two people trying to find their way in a difficult world, and I was hooked from the beginning. Saft skillfully blends a world filled with alchemical magic with the struggles that anyone in today’s world can relate to, and immediately immerses the reader in a world filled with both beauty and sorrow.
The two main characters, Margaret (Maggie) and Weston (Wes), are seemingly polar opposites. She is tight-laced, controlled and physically in command of herself (she’s an expert shot), while internally, she mourns the loss of her family and in particular, her mother, whose approval she desperately wants but never seems to get. He is an aspiring alchemist, who spends time pouring over ancient books and texts, although he just cannot seem to get ahead or succeed in his chosen profession. His charming looks and cavalier attitude conceal someone who is filled with self-doubts about his skills and worries constantly about his family, who are depending on him to succeed. The Halfmoon Hunt, which brings the two of them together, is the perfect catalyst for this pairing of two unlikely heros.
Saft’s writing vividly brings the landscape and the creepy old house where Maggie waits for her mother to return into life. I really liked how so many things about the town and the time period and the culture seemed very similar to things we know in real life so as to be relatable, but at the same time embued with just enough detail about their “otherworldliness” to bring the fantasy and magic aspects to life. I really appreciated that she brought out Wes’s struggles with reading and attention difficulties. Without calling them out as specifically ADHD and/or dyslexia, I certainly know people who will strongly relate to these descriptions. It made him even more human, despite being the “magical” one of the pair with his alchemical skills.
A note that there is some violence in the book, particularly in regards to animals. (The plot revolves around a hunt for a fox, and there is another animal death, as well as some minor violence between humans in the plot.) There are also some child neglect triggers, so be aware before you start to read if these are issues for you at all.
Overall, I wholeheartedly enjoyed this book, rating it 4-1/4 out of 5 stars for plot, character development, world-building and a creative magical system. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Wednesday Books, for gifting me an eARC in exchange for my unbiased review.