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Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy

Disclosure: A free copy was gifted to me in exchange for an honest review.

If you’re looking for some options for your Halloween TBR then I got you. Although this oppressive novel is set in a drought during high summer, the overall atmosphere makes it must-read material for the spookiest month of the year.

Nif and her family are recovering from a tragic accident. They decide (or their father decides) that they need to get away from it all, so they head out to rural Wales, a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, while a drought ravages the country. But once they get there, they notice a definite strangeness to the villagers, and the influence of their new neighbours means that their retreat quickly becomes anything but restful.

Cults, witchcraft, and ritual – if that sounds like your bag then this is the book for you. Nif is a firm believer in The Creed; a school of thought that preaches that two wrongs can indeed make a right; that any negative energy must be balanced out by more negativity to avoid worse things happening in the future.

Hardy has nailed the classic unlikeable protagonist with this one. You can’t help but feel distaste for Nif and her strange ways, and it’s rather unnerving to watch events unfold through her eyes, as she is intensely cold and unfeeling when it comes to the pain of other beings. And when she becomes close with her new neighbour, her habits become even stranger, as she becomes embroiled in village drama that goes back centuries.

A sense of unease and dread pervades through this novel. Hardy has created some truly unsettling characters here, and I enjoyed the way she linked them back to the infamous Derbyshire village which tried to immunise itself against the Black Death by isolating itself completely.

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The author doesn’t shy away from the grotesque, as is evident from her descriptions of wounds, animal deaths and bodily functions, so if you’re sensitive to these things then this one is perhaps not for you.

My one issue is that the author has Nif and Mally refer to some of the girls from the village by their weight and use that as a common insult. I do understand that she is (sadly and accurately) reflecting the cruelty of teenagers towards one another, but it sometimes reads as a bit tone-deaf.

Otherwise, this is a heady and intense coming-of-age novel that will get under your skin and into your bones.

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