Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May
Published by Redhook
Release Date : 29th March 2022 (UK & US)
In the aftermath of World War I, a naive woman is swept into a glittering world filled with dark magic, romance, and murder in this lush and decadent debut.
On Crow Island, people whisper, real magic lurks just below the surface.
Neither real magic nor faux magic interests Annie Mason. Not after it stole her future. She’s only on the island to settle her late father’s estate and, hopefully, reconnect with her long-absent best friend, Beatrice, who fled their dreary lives for a more glamorous one.
Yet Crow Island is brimming with temptation, and the biggest one may be her enigmatic new neighbor.
Mysterious and alluring, Emmeline Delacroix is a figure shadowed by rumors of witchcraft. And when Annie witnesses a confrontation between Bea and Emmeline at one of the island’s extravagant parties, she is drawn into a glittering, haunted world. A world where the boundaries of wickedness are tested, and the cost of illicit magic might be death.
Magic was a trap and I had let myself be snared.
ARC provided by the publisher Redhook and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Wild and Wicked Things is an atmospheric witchy retelling of The Great Gatsby that failed to cast its spell on me.
It is March and it is time to dive deep into some of the new releases for this spring. Thank you to Hachette Book Group my TBR is a fresh conga line of anticipated releases. The first book that caught my eye because of its beautiful cover is Wild and Wicked Things by debut author Francesca May. What made me want to read the book even more is the unique synopsis that interested me to pick it up first for my “mARCh Madness”. Before I start my review I would like to shed a spotlight to the artist that designed the cover art Lisa Marie Pompilio. Seeing the picture of the cover doesn’t give it justice really because in real life it is so much better with the gold embellishment on the black background further emphasising the expensive Gatsby art deco vibe of the book.
Wild and Wicked Things is a The Great Gatsby retelling with a witchy magical realism twist. The story starts with Annie travelling to Crow Island, an island that is famous for its lavish parties and their rich residents, after she receives a letter informing of her fathers death. Tasked with settling her father’s estate, she decides to spend her summer on Crow Island to uncover things about her estranged father and maybe reconnect with an old friend. What Annie thought to be an uneventful summer turned sinister after she is entangled in her neighbours shady business of magic sold in bottles of dreams, pacts made in blood, and unpaid debts lurking in the shadows. And in its core is one individual, the mysterious Emmeline Delacroix.
Maybe I’m not what everybody thinks. Maybe I like danger and that’s why I’m here.
The story of Wild and Wicked Things follows two perspectives: Annie, the innocent and meek island visitor looking to settle her fathers estate, and Emmeline, the rumoured witch of Crow Island that is shrouded in darkness. Francesca May weaves magic into a classic story The Great Gatsby and retells it with the flare of a modern voice enriching the world with parallels with the well loved classic. I would like to clarify that I have not read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For readers that live in countries where this book is deemed as a required book to read in school you all might be familiar with the story. But for me coming from a country in which english isn’t the first language I’ve never heard of Gatsby until the movie was out. I’m writing this review without prior knowledge of The Great Gatsby so I’ll write my review with just Wild and Wicked Things in mind and I will probably not understand the parallels with the classic.
May’s writing is intricate, dark, and deeply emotional in this story about the dangerous magical hedonistic lifestyle observed from the eyes of an innocent stranger. What makes Wild and Wicked Things interesting is the world building, May’s version of reimagined 1920s England during the prohibition era when magic is ruled out to be illegal. The setting that is Crow Island is a place that is literally a magnet for witches from its shape and the vibes of the island. May’s atmospheric writing that is descriptive and sensory filled pushes the immersion slightly over the edge. I flew through the first one hundred pages easily as I enjoyed everything about the world and the building mystery surrounding Crow Island. Since it is a historical fiction fantasy the world offers ambiance for the story making Wild and Wicked Things the perfect book for readers that focuses more on character instead of world building that is a big part in fantasy. The pacing for Wild and Wicked Things I would like to point out is very slow. Though I am a reader that doesn’t mind reading slow stories, this book takes the cake for being the slowest I’ve ever read. This very slow pacing made the second half of the story much less interesting and completely drags the narrative. I understand that May tries to build the suspense slowly to achieve that satisfying release from the frustrating anticipation of the reveal but the twist ended up being pretty lacklustre.
I do it, she added softly, because magic is all I know.
Sadly, the gripe I have with Wild and Wicked Things are two of the main components of the story which are characters and magic. For magic I find that it leans towards magical realism instead of a hard magic system. It took me a while to grasp the magic part as it takes a while for readers to figure how it works in this world. If you are a reader that likes a clear magic system you might find the magic lacking and too vague which what happened to me. I understand that May refers to magic as witchcraft but something about it is a little too abstract for me because it isn’t to the point. It is a though May is beating around the bush instead of concretely asserting what you can do with this magic and how it works. What made it even more confusing is that the characters who are experienced in using magic they seem to beat around the bush. Readers will have to figure out as they read throughout the story. One thing about the magic that is hard to understand is the ‘connection’ part that is repeatedly mentioned by May. Though it was explained later on in the story it wasn’t believable enough for me and it became to be some sort of insta love tool in my eyes.
Magic is a monster. It takes and it takes—and if you’re not careful there wont be any of you left. The whispers in these walls are proof enough of that.
Continuing on to the characters which is my biggest gripe. I’m sad that I did not get attached to any of the characters. May’s characterization didn’t leave a strong impression on me. The presence of the characters in general are weak and one dimensional. This can be strongly found in the main character Emmeline who is the focus of Wild and Wicked Things. Emmeline as a character gave a strong first impression when she first appeared on page. But as I continued reading and getting to know Emmeline further I slowly became detached from her character. I didn’t see the versatility in Emmeline that I had hoped to see. Emmeline has such a good character background but she reverts back to the same thing over and over which makes the other sides of her character seem less believable. What I mean by other sides is the relationships Emmeline has with the side characters Isobel and Nathan. Their relationships are built up to be a found family that is established beforehand but there is no depth besides the snippets from the behind story. I understand it is part of Emmeline’s character arc to isolate herself but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it because Nathan and Isobel seem to manifest as a plot tool instead of a rooted part of the story May has written them to be.
There are some things that should be left alone.
Annie as a character is much stronger and versatile in action compared to Emmeline in my opinion. The growth that Annie showed is slightly better and believable. Yet Annie is one noted in the impression she gives. The innocent girl act can go so far. It felt repetitive when after reading three hundred pages Annie kept using the same defence for her actions which made me draw the conclusion that Annie didn’t grow at all as a character. Emmeline and Annie’s relationships can only be described as abstract insta-love which makes it hard for me to believe in their romantic moments. Then there’s Annie’s relationship with Bea and their overarching conflict between them. Bea is the root cause of this hurricane of a mess the characters got themselves involved in. Her characterization absolutely did not make sense and it is clear she is just a tool for the whole plot of the story to move forward. It is just exhausting reading about Bea as her characterization is shaped to be a pot stirrer. Not to mention Bea’s background that did not make sense on why she decided to change the trajectory of her life.
You make me want to be reckless.
Final thoughts, Wild and Wicked Things is a promising fantasy retelling of a classic that sadly did not live up to its full potential. Francesca May is a wonderful writer that is talented in creating an immersive story that blends sensory descriptions into their atmospheric writing style. Sadly, the characterization didn’t live up to written expectations in terms of growth and believability. I still recommend this book for readers who have read The Great Gatsby and want to see a fantasy twist mixed into it with a bit of slow burn sapphic romance. I would like to point out that there is a rape scene in this book that wasn’t necessary to the plot contained in the flash back that readers should be aware of before reading. For readers who are like me that don’t like insta love and never read The Great Gatsby definitely proceed with caution as I’ve come to the realisation that Wild and Wicked Things could’ve been more enjoyable if I read the classic. For those who are curious about the book, my review is subjective and could differ if the right people read this book because I think this book targets a specific audience that can enjoy it fully.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.