cover image Island Witch

Island Witch

Amanda Jayatissa. Berkley, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-54926-1

Jayatissa (You’re Invited) goes gothic in her third book, a glacially paced but grim and gristly tale of demonic possession and secret violence against women in 19th-century Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka). Amara Akki is the only daughter of Thaththa, the local Capuwa, a spirit worker who is “mostly called upon to bless houses, cut limes to ward off the evil eye, [and] administer tonics.” However, the British have introduced the idea of witchcraft to Ceylon, and allying with them means adapting to their ideas and converting to Christianity. So when a series of men are attacked in the jungle, Amara’s father is branded a “demon worshiper” and becomes the chief suspect. Amara can’t believe her father is guilty and instead suspects that one of the aides to the village headman may have a personal axe to grind against Thaththa. With the help of her new friend Bhagya, Amara sets out to investigate. Meanwhile, her sleepwalking grows increasingly out of hand and she begins to have horrifying dreams of a “demoness” who bears a striking resemblance to the being said to have attacked the men. Jayatissa successfully conjures a spooky atmosphere, but the central mystery is lacking and the plot twists are telegraphed too early. The non-European setting is a welcome break from the norm, however, and the slow, eerie revenge plot offers some chills. It’s not perfect, but this will likely find its fans. Agent: Melissa Danaczko, SK Agency. (Feb.)