The Luminaries (Luminaries, #1)

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The Luminaries (Luminaries, #1)
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Release Date
November 01, 2022
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From Susan Dennard, the New York Times bestselling author of the Witchlands series, comes a haunting and high-octane contemporary fantasy, about the magic it takes to face your fears in a nightmare-filled forest, and the mettle required to face the secrets hiding in the dark corners of your own family.

A Barnes & Noble YA Book Club Pick
An Indigo Best Teen Book of 2022
A Junior Library Guild Pick
An Indie Next Pick
A Goodreads Most Anticipated YA Book

Hemlock Falls isn't like other towns. You won't find it on a map, your phone won't work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie's town―and the rest of humanity―from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal―and restore her family's good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Fun, Fast-Paced Read
Overall rating
Writing Style
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This is a fun, fresh, fast-paced read that has nostalgic vibes for 2000s YA novels. There’s a lot of action and the way the main character worked hard to develop her skills felt realistic. I love a character who has strengths and flaws, and Winnie fits the bill—she’s stubborn, smart, hard-working, and loyal above all, but she’s got anxiety or possibly OCD, and deals with bullying and limited support for part of the book, which impacts how she interacts with others throughout the rest of the story.

The world-building didn’t feel as thoroughly explored as it could have been, with the structure of the Luminaries largely unexplained and the concept of the Dianas remaining mysterious. I was hoping for a bit more romance in the story, but hopefully that’ll pan out in the sequel.

Overall, the story has strong bones, featuring an intriguing set-up that I’m hoping will flesh out more fully in the next book. The concept of nightmares and the Luminaries was fascinating, and while there is a bit of gore, the writing reads as on the younger end of YA, and is age appropriate. While the focus is mainly on developing skills and fighting nightmares as well as navigating the trials, it also focuses a bit on bullying, managing the trauma of being an outcast in such a closely knit society, and incorporates a diverse society.
Good Points
-Diverse, well-rounded cast of characters
-Fast-paced read
-Lots of action
-Intriguing plot
-Outcast/nerdy girl teams up with hot/loner guy
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intriguing YA fantasy
Overall rating
Writing Style
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THE LUMINARIES is an intriguing YA fantasy about monsters, community, and persistence. Winnie Wednesday has grown up amidst the Luminaries, groups of people who keep the world safe by monitoring the supernatural forest for the nightmares that grow within. Winnie was part of the American Luminaries, but her mother, brother, and she were shunned when her father was exposed for being a Diana, a witch who wants to use the forest for their own ends. They were sentenced to 10 years of being outcasts only 4 years ago, meaning they have 6 years on their sentence.

However, Winnie has just turned 16, which is the only time when they are allowed to take the hunter trials. If she misses it, she can never be a hunter and will lose the possibility of restoring her family's name. Armed with copies of the rules, Winnie is determined to complete the trials. However, as she begins, Winnie is soon to learn that these deadly tests are more than she bargained for.

Winnie turns to her former best friend, Jay Friday, for his help to train her. He is particularly skilled as a hunter and may even end up being the Lead Hunter of his house. While they train and Winnie competes in the trials, she also begins to see a new nightmare, one more terrible than she could ever have imagined - and one the adults seem to willfully ignore, potentially at their peril.

What I loved: This was such an intriguing story of persistence and redemption. Winnie has living under the shadow of her father's misdeeds for four years. In the town of Hemlock Falls, with pretty much only other Luminaries as residents, no one will allow her to forget her social exile. Though there are some others who show her kindness, the loss of her former best friends, Jay and Erica, still stings. Winnie has a plan, but she is soon to see the flaws in it, even as things begin to go her way. As she fights for redemption, Winnie is realizing that she is still just a child and the world is bigger and more complex than she expected.

Winnie is a really compelling character that will resonate with teens, who feel ready to take on the world - most of the time. She certainly stumbles along her way, and she gets caught up in a big lie, though it ultimately does not come back to bite her. Although it starts with falsehoods, Winnie faces the world and nightmares with courage and determination, traits that really pay off in the end. While nothing comes easily, Winnie begins to earn her place in the world. She's not a perfect character, but she is empathetic to the reader and still learning as she goes.

Other characters are really intriguing as well. The twins who are kind to Winnie are particularly great, and it showed the power of kindness - even if Winnie doesn't always appreciate it as much as she could. Jay was also a really interesting character - he has a mysterious bad boy persona, though he still clearly cares about Winnie. I certainly have a big guess about what he may be hiding, but I'll have to wait for future books to find out if I am right. Winnie's family is also complex, battling their own feelings of betrayal about her father with the memories they hold of his kindness. They are in survival mode, resigned to being ostracized while having financial trouble and caring for each other.

The nightmares and the forest are central to the story, and the world-building around these is lush and imaginative. These creatures include vampira, werewolves, banshees, and more. As Winnie remembers her lessons and faces some of these, their horror and beauty really comes to life. The mystery of these woods and their origins is another critical piece that feels like it could be resolved in future books. I will definitely be curious to learn more alongside Winnie.

Themes of the book include the complexities of family, rejection of/from community, the cruelty of bullying, the importance of respect, what makes a monster, grief, betrayal, finding your own path, and understanding who your friends really are. It will be interesting to see how these evolve in future books, and I am definitely eager to continue this story!

As a note, this does have quite a few loose threads that will continue into future books with mysteries to be determined. While some small plots are completed, it felt like leaving off in the middle of the larger story, so the reader will definitely be left awaiting the next installment!

Final verdict: Imaginative and lush, THE LUMINARIES is a complex and thought-provoking YA fantasy of redemption, community, and monsters. Recommend for fans of MONSTERS BORN AND MADE and THE BONE HOUSES.
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