A teen descendant of a tribe cursed by an ancient creature may be the one who can save his bloodline in this horror tale.
When Sean Wolf’s parents send him to stay with Grandma Elizabeth in the San Juan Islands, it’s certainly not a vacation. They’ve effectively banned him from their home, believing Sean deliberately set a fire that injured his father, Henry. Elizabeth thinks Sean may have done it subconsciously, protecting his family with magic. Mom Mary saw the raven mark in the fire, the calling card of the Grishla, an animal spirit that the Dwanake tribe attempted to enslave centuries ago. Taking the form of a Velociraptor-esque Deinonychus, the Grishla targets tribe scions in retaliation. But there’s good news: a second mark (the number 13) means Sean broke the Grishla’s spell, convincing Elizabeth he’s the Ultra-Witch, powerful enough to fight the creature. Elizabeth gradually relays this to her grandson so she can begin training him to perfect his witchcraft. But she keeps mum about the “hideous experiments” on children to create an Ultra-Witch—which remain mysterious even to readers. Sean, meanwhile, makes a few friends: Jimmy Cooper, Tom Wright, and Bear. A night of camping in the woods sounds like fun, but it’s unfortunately a prime spot for the Grishla to attack. Gray (New England: Weird, 2016, etc.) delivers suspense throughout: Sean dreams of Civil War ancestor Srinam Srinivasan (and his wife and child) being pursued by the monster, while recurrent red eyes indicate its proximity to various people. But the exposition also offers engaging character development. Sean, for example, regrets tormenting Mary, buying books on black magic just to agitate her. The teens’ dynamic is likewise solid, with churchgoing Jimmy struggling to forgive allegedly reformed bully Tom, responsible for Jimmy’s hellish treatment in school. Gray spends a little too much time on Elizabeth’s vegan cooking, with Sean excessively gushing over portobello mushroom French dip sandwiches. But there’s plenty of meat—vegan or not—to the plot, delving into the tribe’s history as well as Mary’s; her strong Christian beliefs may stem from escaping black magic in her own lineage. The ending drops a nice twist and setup for Book 2.
Equally appealing back story and characters make a sequel to this novel about an animal spirit something to look forward to.