The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

The Luminaries book cover


Goodreads: The Luminaries
Series: The Luminaries #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: November 1, 2022

Official Summary

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

Star Divider


In spite of the fact that The Luminaries begins rather morbid, with the protagonists detachedly retrieving corpses from the woods in which she and her fellow Luminaries live, I am most tempted to call it “delightful.” It’s a relatively short read at 300 pages and, while still fresh, in many ways feels like a callback to how YA fantasy used to be: quick story, a dash of romance, more to discover in the sequel.

I had no particular plans to read this book, in spite of the fact I have enjoyed Dennard’s Witchlands series, but I received it in the November 2022 OwlCrate box, and OwlCrate has once again not let me down! I side-eyed the book a bit as I was thrown into the character’s job picking up dismembered bodies and casually delivering them to the morgue, but luckily the book does get less gross as it goes on, even as it continues to make the case that the forest near Hemlock Falls is dangerous; people can and do die at any time.

In spite of the peril and the monsters, however, the real draw of the book is the characters. Winnie Wednesday wants more than anything to be a Luminary, but her family has been branded outcasts by the town. Her struggles being ignored and mocked by people who used to be her friends and family and her desire to get back her dreams and all else that is rightfully hers are gripping to read about. It’s debatable whether some of the decisions she makes are the best, but they’re understandable. I get her as a person, and I see why does things the way she does.

I do think the jacket copy is a bit misleading, as it implies Winnie and Jay spend a lot of time hunting a new monster in the forest, which isn’t quite true (though I’d be unsurprised if it’s true in the sequel), but the plot of Winnie training for the trials while having concerns about a new monster and having to navigate complicated relationships with her neighbors did keep me turning the pages. And I certainly want to find out what this new monster is!

Sign me up for book two, and sign me up for more Jay, as well, one of those perfect YA boys who seem aloof yet strangely perceptive.

4 stars