by Georgia Bowers
Publication: August 10, 2021
**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
I’m usually prepared for Christmas in July but not so much for Halloween in August. Mark of the Wicked certainly helped set the mood for the ghostly holiday. It’s an atmospheric read with a mix of growing up pains and unexplained paranormal occurrences. While I mostly enjoyed it, the storyline does drag a bit with some repetitiveness in the first half and continues longer than I wanted after it reaches the climax. The ending, however, makes up for it.
Matilda, the lead character, is introduced while attempting a spell sixteen days before Halloween. Despite the price of bringing harm to others, she is more than willing to do it because she can. What’s the use of having power if she can’t do what she wants with it? Her willingness to cause harm so recklessly is also the result of the ability to hide the personal consequences of her actions. She’s a morally grey character. Matilda is not an easy character to connect with. She has a lot of pent-up anger and resents her mom. These feelings fuel her decision making, pushing her to use magic on anyone who has made her life miserable. Despite her tough exterior, the insecurities and vulnerability that come with high school rise to the surface when she meets Oliver, a boy who finally likes her for who she is. In reconciling these different accounts of her character, it’s obvious she’s a little lost and lashing out. Her mother’s presence would have been helpful, but it’s her Nanna May’s presence that provides her comfort. While I was not fond of Matilda’s actions and just generally not too fond of Matilda (at least until the second half), I grew to understand her. Her world collapsed, and she closed herself off. Of course, it doesn’t excuse her behavior. She is not a good witch by any means but even as wicked as she is, she also claims she has boundaries she is unwilling to cross.
My least favorite character in the book is her mom, Lottie. I was disappointed in her a lot, but this is likely a product of the story being told from Matilda’s point of view–I just sympathized more with Matilda. Lottie acts more like she’s in a dispute with a younger sibling. From Matilda’s perspective, Lottie appears to be gallivanting to the beat of her own drum. I get it. Matilda isn’t the easiest person to get along with, but Lottie also isn’t present to help Matilda work through her frustrations. I also felt ambushed by Lottie’s reveals as she tries to soothe over their relationship. Like Matilda, I even started to resent Lottie. It’s highly problematic when your daughter suspects you are the culprit behind the dead animals and her blackouts.
I enjoyed the plot and thought the price to pay for harming others was clever. It poses an interesting question: what choices are we willing to make if we could hide the consequences of our actions? The plot becomes repetitive (something happens, Matilda blacks out, something happens, Matilda blacks out again), which led being frustrated at trying to piece things together. Strange things are happening to animals and Matilda keeps blacking out. There is a connection somewhere, but it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly. I nearly stopped reading because the mystery kept building without any real payoff. When the pieces finally come together, it was a bit of a letdown, confirming my suspicions. On the other hand, the ending was great. It came together well, even if it was a bit too easy.
Those ready for Halloween will enjoy the mystery presented by Mark of the Wicked. Additionally, fans of the cult classic The Craft are likely to enjoy it as well.