Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE WRITING RETREAT by Julia Bartz Kirkus Star


by Julia Bartz

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-9821-9945-6
Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

Five writers, four weeks, and a $1 million book deal for the lucky winner. Unless they disappear first….

Having just turned 30, Alex has to face up to some hard truths: She hates her job; she’s been miserable since breaking up with her best friend; and she’s mired in writer’s block, which makes it pretty hard to be discovered and published. Then, a call from the blue: A writer friend has finagled her a space at an elite writers retreat at the estate of the mysterious, glamorous novelist Roza Vallo. From the very first night at Blackbriar, though, it’s clear that this is no warm and fuzzy workshop, and Roza is no gentle mentor. Each writer must craft a proposal for a full-length novel, then crank out 3,000 words a day to be critiqued. Despite the trappings of luxury—food and wine and an unparalleled library—there’s no ignoring the fact that the writers are trapped; there’s no Wi-Fi or cell service to be found. For Alex, the sense of disquiet grows as her research deepens; with Roza’s urging, she has decided to write a novel about the original inhabitants of the house, a wealthy tycoon and his waitress-turned-medium wife who were both found dead after the wife apparently channeled a demoness named Lamia. When one of the other writers disappears, Alex can’t help but wonder whether occult history is repeating itself. Or is there a much more sinister (and human) plot behind this writing retreat? Despite Alex’s somewhat whiny nature, the book's pacing—a slow roll of dread and horror, especially in the first half—is exceptional. Bartz hits all the gothic highlights, but, far from feeling stale, they work.

A perfect winter night's haunting.