New Book Nook: “Payback’s A Witch” puts the best of Hallmark, Halloween, and magic into one spellbinding package

I’m not sure what’s going on with this recent trend of books about small-town witches, with a distinct spooky season vibe, but can I just say I am here for it? 

Payback’s A Witch follows Emmy Harlow, the eldest child of one of Thistle Grove’s four magical founding families. Despite moving away to Chicago, she is returning home to act as the Arbiter in the Gauntlet, a traditional competition held between the remaining three families.  

On her first night back, she bumps into Gareth Blackmoore, the guy who broke her heart almost a decade ago. The guy who, it turns out, also broke the hearts of Emmy’s best friend Linden, and the effortlessly badass Talia. With Talia facing off against Gareth and Linden’s brother Rowan in the upcoming gauntlet, the three women hatch a plan: work against Gareth to knock him down a few pegs and stop his family from winning the competition yet again.

Payback’s A Witch turned out to be so much more than what the premise suggested it would be. Any cynical preconceived notion I had going in was banished in spectacular fashion. Author Lana Harper intricately weaves the world’s magic system together with an almost Hallmark-like story of a witch who needs to return home to her small town from the big city and learn to love magic again. And as someone who watches dozens of those kinds of movies every year, please know I mean this with utmost praise. 

That said, the budding romance between Emmy and Talia is much steamier than anything you’ll find in movies like that. Beyond their chemistry, both witches approach their family legacies through very different perspectives,  which has also impacted what they feel they want for themselves. Like any good romance, their way forward is found through remaining true to their own desires without ever asking the other to sacrifice their own wants. 

A true surprise with the book is the balance struck between the magical side of the story and the romantic one. While, it’s true, neither would function without the other, it’s also worth noting that neither of them overshadows the other. Both are given equal importance and weight, and the story is as much about Emmy falling in love with her powers, and herself as it is about Emmy falling in love with Talia. 

The setting of Thistle Grove is so damn cozy. Fall is my favourite time of year, and there is nothing quite like experiencing it somewhere with crisp air and beautiful foliage, but perhaps I’m a bit biased. The connection of the families who live there feels very lived in. It’s not easy to convey a sense of genuine history in writing, but Harper does so beautifully. 

My lone complaint by the end of the book was that I wanted more from Gareth and Linden. I got the sense that their breakup was not quite as simple as all that, and I kept expecting to circle back to it, which never happened. That said, Payback’s A Witch is only the first book in a series about Thistle Grove, which means more is coming down the line, and I personally cannot wait.

Payback’s A Witch is available now. 

Special thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for the advance copy for review purposes. 

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