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Book Review: The Invocations by Krystal Sutherland

Book Review: The Invocations by Krystal Sutherland

Five women are dead. The killer leaves no fingerprints, no DNA. The only thing that connects the victims are the similar pieces of skin cut from their bodies – and the witch that knows what those missing pieces mean. In a world where only women can use magic, Emer Byrne is a cursewriter, and a talented one at that. She writes invocations that defend women and give them power. But now a brutal supernatural serial killer is hunting those who sought protection and they’re using Emer’s spellwork to do it.

As the killings continue, Emer’s path converges with two young women seeking a cursewriter of their own. Brazen Jude Wolf has all the money in the world but she’s foolishly bound her immortal soul to some angry demons and the botched curses are slowly destroying her body. She wants out of the hellish deal and she’s willing to pay whatever it takes to make that happen. Then there’s Zara Jones, the naive sister of the killer’s first victim, who’s racked with grief and wants to find a way to bring her sister back from the dead. As the three damaged young women reluctantly join forces, they stumble upon something much more sinister than a single killer stalking the streets.

A girl walks home alone, but not alone. She feels him before she sees him. There’s no sound, or movement, or smell. Just some primordial response left over in the blood from a time before humans were humans. A sudden prickle of fright in her gut. A displacement of energy that makes her gaze snap back over her shoulder and brings her footsteps to a stop.

There have been many recent novels that pulse with a profound feeling of female fury. Yet the rage screaming its way through Krystal Sutherland’s The Invocations is particularly palpable. This isn’t the kind of story readers would want to identify with, but so many will find themselves – as I did – recognising the characters’ fear as they walk alone in the dark, keys in hand, assessing looming shadows and passing strangers for signs of threat. Sutherland’s book begins as an eerie serial killer thriller with a heavy dose of supernatural chills, but it evolves into the collective battle cry of persecuted women. The end result is a witchy story that’s at once powerful, lyrical and genuinely scary.

The thrilling mystery that opens the book and drives the story towards its bloody finale had me turning the pages with increasing speed. Yet it’s the connection that develops between the three central women that’s ultimately the beating heart of The Invocations. Emer, Jude and Zara have all been failed in some way – by broken systems, by absent parents, by resentful, power-hungry men. They’re angry and hurting and desperate to claw back the lives or people that have been stolen from them. Together they form a strange family bound by loss, trauma and a deep loneliness that none of them truly acknowledge until they find each other. Even through the book’s darker, more horrifying scenes, it’s that sense of sisterhood that throws light over the characters.

Alongside the friendship that develops is a tender sapphic romance between Emer and Jude, which plays out slowly and naturally. It never once overtakes the weightier themes of the book and yet it feels integral to the characters’ growth, and ultimately their healing too. The love in the story – whether it’s the enduring love for blood family, or the love you find within the welcoming arms of a found family – is so much more powerful than hate. It’s a surprisingly pleasant message to take away from a serial killer book filled with such a lot of blood, death and witchery. Sharing more in common with Sutherland’s macabre House of Hollow than her bittersweet YA debut Our Chemical Hearts, The Invocations is for all the readers who like their witchy thrillers infused with feminist fury.


The Invocations was published by Hot Key Books on 30 January 2024

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