atmospheric and haunting read

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LAKESEDGE is a deliciously creepy, gothic YA fantasy that completely hooks the readers with this world of shadows. Violeta and her brother, Arien, were touched by loss at a young age, when their parents died. They went to live with a woman, who they call Mother, but she is abusive and claims she is doing it for their own good. Violeta tries everything she can to keep her brother safe, but his shadow dreams cause their Mother to take more drastic and painful measures to cast them out.

On tithing day, when Arien is unable to control his shadows, the lord, who is also known as the Monster of Lakesedge for the belief that he killed his whole family, takes an interest in him and seeks him out to go to his estate. Arien is willing to go, and Violeta will not allow him to go alone. Once at Lakesedge, they learn of a terrible magic and the untold prices that will be asked to stop it.

What I loved: This atmospheric and lush read is absolutely riveting. The world-building is fantastic, transporting the reader to this other world with alchemical magic, divine figures, and dangers from death. The Lord Under, who is the caretaker of the dead and who makes tricky bargains with people, was a particularly well-developed deity with intriguing mythology and fearsome moments. He causes the reader to consider what price they would pay for a favor and what prices would be too high when your own life or those of your loved ones hang in the balance.

The book is full of compelling characters. Violeta is driven by her love of her brother and her guilt over the past. She is single-minded in her determination to protect those she loves, a number which expands as she remains at Lakesedge. Her heart and focus are ever leading her into dangerous places. Rowan is haunted by his decisions and driven by his guilt and penance for the things he cannot change. He wants to save everyone but has already paid high prices for past decisions. Although we get to know him less, Arien is driven by his search for acceptance and some of his scenes will break your heart. The other women at the estate are intriguing, and I am interested to see if we will get to know them more in the future.

The romance was lovely with a doomed and desperate feeling that make it burn brighter. There is good LGBTQIA+ rep in the book with main characters falling on the spectrums as well as side characters. I really loved the primary romance that was all the swoon.

There are some thought-provoking themes in the book around family, sacrifice, memory, cost, and religion. From the start with Mother trying to do things "for their own good" with regards to the religion she ascribes to and then the later expansion of how this religion works, with the Lady and the Lord Under, it was an interesting look into the roles religion plays in people's lives. Family was another major theme as decisions are made around those loved, and particularly, siblings share strong relationships. The willingness to sacrifice was another big theme, with characters trying so hard to give all they have for the good of others, with questions around the value, the cost, and the reactions of those they are trying to help. These and other themes give readers something to continue to consider after the last page is turned.

I will also add that the ending does have a small cliffhanger, and it will be so difficult to wait until the next book is released to learn more. This is a series I am unbelievably excited to follow.

Final verdict: Atmospheric, haunting, and riveting, LAKESEDGE is an unexpected gothic YA fantasy with complex world-building and compelling characters. Highly recommend for fans of SMALL FAVORS, THE MERCIFUL CROW, WHITE STAG, and THE BONE HOUSES.

Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher. All opinions are my own.