The Witch in the Well
- Author: Camilla Bruce
- Genre: Mystery/Thriller
- Publication Date: September 6, 2022
- Publisher: Tor Books
Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: grief, murder, mention of bullying, miscarriage, blood, gore
The Witch in the Well is a dark Norwegian thriller from Camilla Bruce, author of You Let Me In.
When two former friends reunite after decades apart, their grudges, flawed ambitions, and shared obsession swirl into an all-too-real echo of a terrible town legend.
Centuries ago, beautiful young Ilsbeth Clark was accused of witchcraft after several children disappeared. Her acquittal did nothing to stop her fellow townsfolk from drowning her in the well where the missing children were last seen.
When author and social media influencer Elena returns to the summer paradise of her youth to get her family’s manor house ready to sell, the last thing she expected was connecting with—and feeling inspired to write about—Ilsbeth’s infamous spirit. The very historical figure that her ex-childhood friend, Cathy, has been diligently researching and writing about for years.
What begins as a fiercely competitive sense of ownership over Ilsbeth and her story soon turns both women’s worlds into something more haunted and dangerous than they could ever imagine.
This book was the perfect way to kick off spooky season. It’s a dark, atmospheric thriller, with elements of horror and the paranormal running throughout. Camilla Bruce did a fabulous job with this one, and it was nothing like what I expected.
The story centers around the town legend of Ilsbeth Clark, who was acquitted of witchcraft, yet still murdered by the people of the town as an act of revenge for their missing children. Both of the MCs have become obsessed with her story, although in different ways, and it sets the tone for this book.
Elena is working to clean out her family’s summer home, but she gets distracted by the spirit of Ilsbeth. She’s famous for her book and social media presence focusing on her soul connection, so when she feels the presence of Ilsbeth, she’s convinced that she wants to show her that she was a good witch and didn’t harm anyone, and simply wants to tell her own story. She decides to write her own book about Ilsbeth, as a spur of the moment decision. Elena comes off as kind of flighty and naive, and she wasn’t necessarily a likable character for me, but I was still able to empathize with her for a lot of the time.
Cathy is the other MC who was even less likable. She holds grudges and consistently gets in her own way, so I really had a hard time empathizing with her after the very beginning of the book. She’s been working to write her own story on Ilsbeth for years, and keeping everything very secret, but becomes irrationally angry when she finds out about Elena’s plans. It doesn’t help that she and Elena are estranged friends.
The story moved a bit slow in the beginning, but then pulled me in after a few chapters. Once I got to that point, I couldn’t put it down. The chapters vacillate between Elena’s diary entries, Cathy’s open letters to the town that are posted online, excerpts from Cathy’s book, and mysterious documents which come from Ilsbeth’s time and tell more of the story, as well as some chapters told from the POV of a character who isn’t named in the beginning but it quickly becomes obvious who the character is. I was fascinated by how everything comes together, and how different the voices all are, which isn’t an easy thing to do.
I loved this story, and how everything was woven together brilliantly. It had different layers of complexity that appeared at different times, where it seemed like a fight between two former friends at first, and then it came across as one thing, and once I read a bit more, it seemed like something else, and then finally was revealed to be another thing that was completely unexpected. It developed beautifully and in a surprising way, and while I’ve read other books by Bruce, this one was done very differently and in an interesting way that had me hopelessly hooked. This is the kind of book that’s going to haunt my thoughts in the best kind of way.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 3
Categories: Book Review