VenCo, by Cherie Dimaline

Lucky St. James is just trying to keep herself and her grandmother (who has dementia) fed, sheltered, and safe in Toronto when she is pulled into a centuries-old conflict between witches and the men who hunt them down in Cherie Dimaline’s tense novel, VenCo. We never really learn a lot about this world’s explanation for witch-hunting, which is a little frustrating, nor do we get much more than a series of backstories about the members of the coven Lucky is fated to join. The best parts of this book are the sections focused on Lucky herself, who stands out in an otherwise thin story.

Lucky has lived on the thin boundary between poverty and absolute penury for most of her life. Her mother, who had a knack for making magic out of nothing, taught Lucky everything she knew about survival before dying of cancer when Lucky was very young. When we meet her, Lucky makes ends meet with temp work and struggles to make sure that her grandmother is safe. Unfortunately for the duo, Lucky has just received word that she and her grandmother are going to be evicted. The sudden offer of a job in Salem, Massachusetts, delivered by a woman who is clearly not telling Lucky everything, is the kind of offer Lucky can’t turn down.

Once Lucky is introduced to the world of the Salem coven and its guiding organization, VenCo, things get a lot more interesting. Lucky and her new cohorts have to find the last member of their coven, to fulfill the hope that they will somehow (?) make the world a better place. The only thing standing their way is an immortal witch hunter, whose chapters absolutely made my skin crawl as this creature describes using everyone around him for his own advantage or pleasure.

The climax of VenCo is outstanding and may be worth the price of admission for fans of original witchy fiction. My biggest problem with VenCo is that, in spite of some really good characterization and magical combat, it races along so fast that we never get to settle into the other characters or how magic works or what VenCo and the Maiden, Mother, and Crone and its helm are really for. I feel like the plot and cast list should’ve been scaled back or expanded greatly so that all of the characters have more development and so that we can see further behind the scenes.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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