Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

Posted October 1, 2014 by Jessica in Jessica, Reviews, Urban Fantasy / 76 Comments

Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan
The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan
Series: Revelation Quartet #1
Published by Ballantine Books
Published on: September 23 2014
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
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For fans of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and A Discovery of Witches comes a brilliantly imagined debut novel brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic.

Revelation “Reve” Dyer grew up with her grandmother’s family stories, stretching back centuries to Reve’s ancestors, who founded the town of Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts. Their history is steeped in secrets, for few outsiders know that an ancient magic runs in the Dyer women’s blood, and that Reve is a magician whose powers are all too real.

Reve and her husband are world-famous Las Vegas illusionists. They have three lovely young daughters, a beautiful home, and what seems like a charmed life. But Reve’s world is shattered when an intruder alters her trick pistol and she accidentally shoots and kills her beloved husband onstage.

Fearing for her daughters’ lives, Reve flees with them to the place she has always felt safest—an antiquated farmhouse in the forest of Hawley Five Corners, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, and her oldest friend—and first love—is the town’s chief of police. Here, in the forest, with its undeniable air of enchantment, Reve hopes she and her girls will be protected.

Delving into the past for answers, Reve is drawn deeper into her family’s legends. What she discovers is The Hawley Book of the Dead, an ancient leather-bound journal holding mysterious mythic power. As she pieces together the truth behind the book, Reve will have to shield herself and her daughters against an uncertain, increasingly dangerous fate. For soon it becomes clear that the stranger who upended Reve’s life in Las Vegas has followed her to Hawley—and that she has something he desperately wants.

Brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic, The Hawley Book of the Dead is a brilliantly imagined debut novel from a riveting new voice.


GAH. This book . . .

This book has the most original premise I’ve come across in a long time. If you don’t listen to anything else I say, listen to this—don’t read the blurb (except for the bolded part, that part’s fine). Learning that Reve Dyer shot her husband, whom she loved, without any context, is the way to go. TRUST ME. It doesn’t take long for it to unfold (I’m talking the first 5ish%), and this is one time my callous disregard for book synopses paid off.

Revelation Dyer is the last in a long line of Revelations. The first immigrated from Ireland to New England 250(ish) years ago, but this is not another Salem witches retelling. The Dyer women are not pagan practitioners, they are merely women with a variety of gifts. Reve’s Nan has an affinity for wild animals, her mother has a talent for healing. A Revelation who could read minds was a spy during the Revolutionary War, and Reve, herself, can vanish into thin air.

How. Cool. Is. That??

Given the nature of her family’s giftedness, it’s no surprise that Reve was raised on the stories of these remarkable women, disguised as folktales and legends of . . . horror.

The Fetch was the monster of Reve’s childhood. It was the story she begged her Nan to tell her over and over again, despite the fear it inspired. I could almost feel it’s singsong quality, almost see little girls with long hair in white dresses as they spun in a circle or jumped rope to a child’s version of the tale. A nursery rhyme meant to minimize the terror. A rhyme about the Fetch, come to steal you in night, and take you back to his master in fairyland.

Or maybe that was just my way of coping . . . I don’t do scary.

But The Hawley Book of the Dead was more Modern Gothic than Horror—imagine an abandoned village in the middle of a protected forest in Massachusetts.

An abandoned village. In the middle of a forest. In Massachusetts.


That’s where Reve runs with her daughters after the death of her husband, and that’s where Reve learns there’s more to her gift . . . where does she go when she disappears?

Disappearing isn’t exactly the word for it. It’s as if I walk through a curtain, enter the passageway to another world. I sometimes feel that I could go further in, but I never do.

So the story/idea is obviously the high point for me. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of thrillers or suspense novels (again, b/c I don’t do scary), so the middle lagged a bit. It could be argued that this entire book is a thriller, but there was enough lore, enough supernatural goings-on in the earlier parts of the book to keep me distracted. The middle  is almost pure mystery. There are still bits and pieces of the paranormal, but a magical book that reveals the mind of a psychopath in real time is basically just a brief POV change. And Reve’s desperation, while completely understandable, temporarily makes her not much more than a shrieking harpy, lashing out at everyone around her. I was also disappointed that Nathan wasn’t more developed. Szarlan laid the foundation for an absolutely spectacular secondary character, and never followed through.

Those few things aside, I thought this an excellent read, and I realize that I’m a minority as far as my dislike of thrillers is concerned, so it’s highly likely you won’t have the same issue I did. There’s also still hope for Nathan b/c this is the first book in what appears to be a quartet. *crosses fingers*

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan combines stage magic with real magic, performance art with real life, and fantasy with suspense. In short, it was enthralling. I’d recommend this book to lovers of Urban Fantasy-lite and a good mystery. Get in on the ground floor of this exciting new series, people—I don’t want to hear your excuses of too many books in a few years. You know you are . . . *winks*

Was this review helpful to you? If so, please consider voting for it on Amazon or like it on Goodreads!

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My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.


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76 responses to “Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan

  1. If the mystery/thriller part was not exactly for you but you still loved it I think I would love love this one. Yeah I’m a sucker for this kind of story. I didn’t know about it before but I’ll keep an eye on this one now. Thank you!

    • Yay! I hope you fit it in some time. The whole time I was reading this book, I was thinking about how all these bloggers I know who love thrillers (and my sister) would LOVE this book.

  2. It’s great that this book jumps into the story quite quickly and that it had a unique premise! It gets harder and harder to write unique books each year because so many are being written. Thanks for putting this under my radar!

    Lovely review, Jessica! <33

    • Different types of magic don’t bother me, b/c even when everyone practices the same kind of magic, (most of the time) everyone still has their specialties. But witches are one of my favorite supernatural creatures 😉

    • Thanks, Joy! And this really was a great book to read in October. It was spooky without being scary or gory (I HATE scary and gory), and it was just a really unique spin on witchcraft in New England.

  3. This one is completely new to me Jessica!!! Love it when I find new books to add to the list! I definitely do not want to wander into an abandoned village in the middle of MA though. I’m not the type of person would would survive that kind of situation, I’d be one of those horror movie people who’s offed in the first 10 minutes:) Fantastic review!

    • LOL! Well, if this was the kind of book where the people wandering the abandoned town were offed, I’d be right there with you. Fortunately, this book was just creepy, and the Bad Guy was only after the MC, not everyone (and thank goodness for that).

  4. You talkin’ to me?!? Oh alright, I concede. And I admit to getting the chills while reading your review. This does sound incredible and creepy and unique. And I’m happy to say I didn’t read the synopsis. 😉 I will have to scroll back up so I can add it to my tbr but I’ll avoid looking. I promise. And I’m going to read this one…hopefully sooner than later. It seems like it’s along the lines of an M. Knight Shyamalan movie – and I love those. Thanks for the great review, Jessica.
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…**Young Adult Review ~ Spin ~ Darcie J. Gudger**

  5. the title made me hesitate because i don’t do horror ^^;; but your review did rassure me ( oki i love suspense and if i guess the plot in the first few page, it’s not that compelling) so i really could try it i especially love the kind of gifts they ahve ( i wonder if we will see which gifts teh daughters have)
    miki recently posted…He Ain’t Lion ( Ridgeville1 ) by Celia Kyle

    • I don’t do horror either. I am the biggest chicken in the world, but this book was more creepy than scary, and the premise was so cool, that I just loved it. And yeah, I’m pretty sure the daughters’ gifts will show up in future books.

  6. Jess1

    I’m not into too scary stories too, so I appreciated your points about the book. Thanks for your review.

  7. Call em what you will, I am always on board for witches! I’m a pretty big fan of the Gothic, it’s pretty much the only kind of scary I can do. I’ve tried a few horror titles recently and they were waaay too much for me. But dangle some witchy juju in front of me and I am game! And we both know that I can’t afford to be behind on another series 😉
    Danya recently posted…Monthly Recap: September 2014

    • LOL! Witchy juju is much more my speed than typical horror, and YES, best to start early. B/c you know I’ll be reading the next book, and if you haven’t yet, it’s only downhill from there 😉

  8. Great advice! I’ve read a couple of books where the blurb gave away something that it shouldn’t. One book teased something that didn’t even happen until halfway through the book–I spent most of the first half wondering if the book had been blurbed incorrectly!
    Stephanie Faris recently posted…It’s October!!!

  9. Mary from BookSwarm  

    I’m halfway hiding under the covers just reading the blurb and your review — I’m not great with scary. One of my students asked me if I was going to see any of the scary movies coming out (that doll one? NO WAY IN HELL!!!!!). Immediate answer: NO. Still, this story seems worth a little scare (great creepy setting!).
    Mary recently posted…Pre-Squee: Midnight’s Kiss by Thea Harrison

    • I think you’d like this one, Mary. It’s spooky, but not scary. I don’t do scary either. And NO—no horror movies for me either. I can’t even watch things like American Horror Story. *hides under covers*

  10. Blurbs have just spoiled so much for me in books but I’m still very muh a blurb reader (WHEN WILL I LEARN?) That being said, I so happy to hear you just took a chance with this one and ended up enjoying it while going In blind! You make me want to do her same! Lovely review Jessica 🙂
    Lily recently posted…Bleed Like Me: Review

  11. Michele from A Belle's Tales  

    What a great cover! Love that it has such an original premise! And I avoid blurbs like the plague now, so no worries there. This is definitely being added to the list! Awesome review, Jessica!

  12. Chanzie from Mean Who You  

    Oooooh this sounds like a book I would love. Firstly I can’t stand the cover so I would have skipped it. Secondly I don’t like the title so I would have skipped it.. But your review totally sold it!!! Great Review Jessica!!
    Chanzie recently posted…IWSG #4 ~ October ’14

  13. Aly P

    I don’t know about the book, it’s not my cup of tee, but I love the cover! I love the slightly creepy feel it gives you/

  14. Amber Elise  

    New England is an awesome setting for the creepy crawlies! I’m happy I read your review before I read the blurb, I’m ready for this crazy ride now!!

    Amber Elise @Du Livre

  15. OK, Jessica, I’m staying far, far away from the synopsis (which is sadly something I feel like it’s a good thing to do more often than not lately), and I am adding The Hawley Book of the Dead to my TBR. The premise sounds amazing! I wish I could teleport! I really, really do. Then I could have coffee with my mom in the afternoon and still be at home when the kids finish school 😀
    Great review.
    Lexxie recently posted…Review: Crushed – Eliza Crewe

  16. I wanted this book when I first saw the comparisons, but because I only liked those books, not loved them, I was a little leery. To here that it’s spooky with lots of mystery actually makes this sound better!
    Sarah recently posted…Review: Fated