“Covenant of the Hollow” is a reverse timeline fantasy focusing on two women from very different times, backgrounds, and locations. Annalise lives in our current world and, at nineteen years-old, is running for mayor of her small town outside of Seattle. She’s Puerto Rican and faces a great deal of racism and push back because of her origins and the mistakes of her father. Elizabeth Bathory is a Hungarian noble in the 1500’s who did actually exist and is credited as one of the most prolific female serial killers—which the author plays off of wonderfully. Elizabeth wants to secure her families line with a well-made marriage and will do anything to ensure her name goes down in history. Which is why she makes a deal with a mysterious, dark entity who she is half convinced is the devil. This dark force is present in Annalise’s time as well, tempting her and her friends with granting their every wish and removing all obstacles in their path. All they have to do is give up their fear and everything they want is theirs with no consequences. Or so the demon-like entity says. But things don’t exactly work out that way for any of them, and really, is anyone surprised?
So, before I dive into the meat of the review, I do need to mention a couple of trigger warnings for abuse—both spousal and child. It plays a prominent role in one of the character’s lives so it’s done with intention and not to just make the reader despise certain characters, but just keep that in mind. There is also a scene involving abortion and suicide, which, again, is done with intention so it isn’t there for shock value, but know that ahead of time in case you are sensitive to such scenes. There is also a bit of swearing in the book, but no overly graphic violence. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this book fits in the YA category even though its main characters start the book at under twenty. This is a pretty firm New Adult fantasy book in my opinion.
Anyway, Annalise wants to be mayor for very noble reasons: she wants to help her community and make a better life for people in her situation. Which includes her mother who is so stuck in her old fashioned beliefs about God and the role of daughters in a traditional Puerto Rican household that she infuriatingly denies any help Annalise wants to give her to keep a roof over her and her sisters head. But there’s so much stacked against Annalise, including an incumbent with all the money and support, that she feels like she has no choice but to listen to this strange presence that lures her and her friends into speaking with it following a prophetic dream from one of her male friends. In a similar vein, Elizabeth feels like she has no other option than to listen to the voice that invades her prayers as she desperately tries to secure a good marriage. By this point Elizabeth is already indulging in her dark desires, so the demon-like creature has nothing to do with that, but when she agrees to give up the fear holding her back, things get messier from there. That’s really the only thing these two women have in common, their deals with this mysterious entity. I thought both timelines were interesting though, as were the individual struggles of both women, and it was also fascinating to read what the removal of their fear allowed them to do, and the consequences of those actions. It’s an incredibly interesting premise, and the struggles of these women was written in a fast-paced and enjoyable manner, especially given the two very different timelines they inhabit. This was a pretty fun, and easy book to get through, but I did have a few hang ups when it came to the plot and some of the secondary characters.
There’s a lot the author is trying to accomplish and say in this novel, especially as it is the first book of an on-going series. You have Elizabeth trying to secure her lands and nobility and how each deal seems to escalate into the need to make more deals. And you have Annalise who is not only trying to secure the election, but also save her family AND save humanity as each deal she makes, again, escalates an ever growing problem. Plus the characters are also trying to figure out just what this entity is that can both speak in their heads and manipulate the future as long as they feed it different fears. It’s a lot that needs to be resolved in a relatively short book, so come the end it just didn’t feel as if everything tied together in a way that didn’t feel forced. The butterfly effect-like scenario is indeed a good one, or a good idea, but it didn’t get the full attention I think it truly needed in order to pull it off. Also, most of Annalise’s friends didn’t feel all that distinct to me, or like they had a true purpose other than as plot devices. Some of them could have been morphed into one person and I don’t think it would have made a difference, as they didn’t add much to the story as a whole and they felt so similar that I had a hard time keeping them separate in my mind anyway, which is especially true of Brishen and Lokni.
Ultimately, come about the 40% mark in the novel I could already tell certain plot holes and various tense situations weren’t going to be resolved, or at least not resolved in a way that felt like it hadn’t been added in last minute. Which is too bad because, as I mentioned, this book has some really interesting points, and good ideas, and the fact that its MC is a POC AND asexual and in a relationship with a lesbian is so wonderful in terms of representation. And while this is a quick and easy read, I was left a bit dissatisfied with how and where things ended and I never felt like some of the biggest points of interest in the book got nearly enough attention; namely pretty much everything surrounding the mysterious entity and everything going on with Dasha. Perhaps that gets better answered in the following books, but still. I struggled with rating this book because there was a lot I did enjoy—and the representation is just so, so important—but where the book fell short, in my opinion, is also pretty major too. So I’m giving this a 3.5 star as it was enjoyable and I do have high hopes for the rest of the series. And thanks to the author for sending me a copy for an honest review
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