Book Review: Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Young Adult Horror
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: August 24th, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made more money. Clients pay her to talk to their deceased loved ones, but it isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and Mom’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. Things get worse, when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings or she’ll “burn everything down.” Katrell is willing to call them on their bluff, though. She has no choice. What do ghosts know about eating peanut butter for dinner?

However, when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.

But magic doesn’t come for free, and soon dark forces are closing in on Katrell. The further she goes, the more she risks the lives of not only herself, but those she loves. Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late.

Content warnings: Murder of a dog on-page about 9% of the way in, physical abuse of a child, emotional abuse/manipulation of a child, food insecurity, some gore.

This took me by surprise, but in a good way. From the summary I expected more of a young adult urban fantasy/paranormal read, but Bad Witch Burning ended up being more of a contemporary novel with heavy horror elements. Readers expecting a fast paced novel will be disappointed as there’s more of a character driven focus for the plot. Which is fine because Katrell and the supporting cast are well written and I didn’t mind spending time with them (save for her abusers).

Katrell herself is a worthy main character, although near the end she did end up having to hand part of the reins over to her best friend, Will. However, I didn’t mind this, as Katrell’s whole story was about having to always fend for herself and believing no one was there for her. The fact that she has to learn to depend on her friend and allow Will to help save her was a satisfying conclusion to her arc. This may not be some readers’ preference, however, as it might come across as Katrell becoming a little passive.

The paranormal aspects are likely what will disappoint some readers; we’re never given any kind of explanation as to why Katrell’s powers suddenly change, or whether she was always able to bring a person back to life and just didn’t know until she was desperate enough to try. Personally I would have preferred a bit more explanation in this, but it may not bother others.

The only criticisms I have concern the pacing for the first part of the novel, which seems to meander just slightly, and the fact that Katrell is warned about her powers by Will’s deceased grandmother in one of the first chapters. At this point Katrell can only bring a shade back for about ten minutes. Will’s grandmother waits until the very end of these ten minutes to tell Katrell not to do any more summoning, and won’t explain why. Lewis does poke fun at this a bit in the end by having Will say her grandmother could have given a better warning, but it was a bit late, so the scene mostly came across as a contrived way to build suspense.

Bad Witch Burning isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it and it even made me cry at the end. I look forward to what comes next from Jessica Lewis.

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