Recently, for some random reason, I have read a lot of novels set on remote Scottish islands. Of which The Lighthouse Witches is one. A tantalising Gothic mystery, yes there are equal parts lighthouse and witches in the story – both things that appeal to me and can really work to create an evocative story, as they did here.
Opening sentence: They bind our feet and ankles, tear off our clothes and douse us with alcohol.
Liv goes to Lon Haven
So, the fictional Lon Haven is the remote Scottish island in question where, in 1998, one of our lead characters, Liv (an artist) goes on a commission – to paint a striking mural inside an old and derelict lighthouse evocatively named the Longing.
A wild place with a Viking soul, Lon Haven’s violent and tragic history had clearly infected the minds of its inhabitants, creating beliefs rooted deeply in fear.
She arrives with her three daughters: Sapphire (Saffy), Luna and Clover and is shown around by housekeeper, Isla. The man who hired her is a mysterious character and not immediately around.
As Liv and her daughters try to settle into island life they face coming to terms with the isolated setting, moody weather, local tales of witchcraft, superstition and, yes, a little romance. However, something strange happens: Liv, Saffy and Clover going missing and are never found…
I read that they burned about four thousand witches here in Scotland. Or, you know, women.
Luna’s search for the lighthouse witches
This only leaves Luna; we get chapters from her as an adult in 2021. She is pregnant and still holds out hope of finding her missing family. Then one day, it’s reported that a girl matching Clover’s description has been found. But that’s the problem: a girl has been found. Clover hasn’t aged a day, she remains the 9 year old child she was when she went missing 20 years ago….
Just what is going on and is witchcraft at play?
The Grimoire of Patrick Roberts
At first, the people were glad of King James VI and his mission to rid the world of witches.
Witchcraft, obviously, plays a key part in the story. Liv’s oldest daughter, teenager Saffy finds a diary aka Grimoire aka a book of spells. It’s from 1662 and gives us the POV of a man called Patrick, who lived on the island and whose story connects to the present.
I love reading books like The Lighthouse Witches as it had thematic tie backs to a lot of others I have enjoyed reading. There are mentions of Icelandic runes, which appeared in The Glass Woman and the myth of the wildlings that features so heavily here reminds me of the changelings that appear in Little Darlings.
I will admit that this book took a step into fantasy that I wasn’t expecting and threw me a little at the end, but I still really enjoyed the story that kept me hooked, challenged the history of witchcraft as a way to control women and gave me a little hit of Gothic.
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Get your copy of The Lighthouse Witches here;
- Published by HarperCollins 30th September 2021;
- 432 pages;
- My rating: