Book Title: The Bitterwine Oath
Author: Hannah West
Publisher: Holiday House
Release Date: December 1, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Every fifty years, a cult claims twelve men to murder in a small Texas town. Can one girl end the cycle of violence – and save the boy who broke her heart?
San Solano, Texas is a quaint town known for its charm, hospitality, and history of murder. Twice now, twelve men have been brutally killed, and no one knows who did it. A shadowy witch? A copy-cat killer? Or a man-hating murderess? Eighteen-year-old Natalie Colter is sure that the rumors about her great-great-grandmother’s cult of wronged women are just gossip, but that doesn’t stop the true crime writers and dark tourism bloggers from capitalizing on the town’s reputation. It’s an urban legend that’s hard to ignore, and it gets harder when Nat learns that the sisterhood is real, and magical. And they want her to join.
The more Nat learns of the Wardens’ supernatural history, the more she wonders about the real culprits behind the town’s ritualistic murders. Are the Wardens protecting San Solano from even darker forces? As the anniversary of the murders draws near, the town grows restless. Residents start getting “claimed” as this year’s planned victims, including Levi Langford, the boy whose kiss haunted Nat for a year.
Nat knows that no one is safe. Can she and the sisterhood stop the true evil from claiming their town?
Hannah West is the author of young adult books including The Nissera Chronicles series and The Bitterwine Oath. She’s been writing fantasy since kindergarten, when she penned her first tale about a princess who ran away and lived at the top of a flagpole with two loaves of bread. But it wasn’t until she studied abroad in Orléans, France during college that the premise for her first novel materialized. The fairy tale castles, the snowy winter days, and a Disney princess pencil that arrived in a care package from her parents provided the inspiration that allowed her to wrangle all her untold and unfinished stories into a novel.
Hannah currently lives in the Dallas area with her husband and their two rambunctious rescue dogs.
Author Interview with Hannah West
1. Congrats on your next young adult book! What was your inspiration for The Bitterwine Oath?
All three of my previous novels take place in a fantasy world, so I felt like it was time to bring the magic to a real setting. I knew from the start that I wanted the story to be set in a small town in my home state of Texas, and that I wanted to center a group of magic-wielding women who are fighting to save their town—unbeknownst to all of the people they’re protecting. From there it was just a matter of building out a magic system that fit into the small town setting.
2. Did your writing process change for this book compared to your previous novels?
My other books are high fantasy, and to write that genre you really need to dig into your imagination, especially when it comes to visualizing the setting. The Bitterwine Oath is set in my home state, so it was like taking a mental vacation—I could just look at pictures or drive around the area. Creating the magic system, on the other hand, is always the most complicated part of any fantasy, no matter what genre. That process was pretty similar.
3. What was the hardest part of writing The Bitterwine Oath?
The rewriting! This is technically my fourth published book, but it was only the second book that I drafted, and I still had so much to learn about the craft while I was writing it. I’m so much prouder of the final result than I was of any of the earlier drafts. The book really came into its own, but not without a ton of hard work. I’ve grown a lot as a writer since then, and luckily my first drafts are a little more serviceable nowadays.
4. If you could have your book turned into anything (a TV show, movie, musical, dance number, etc.), what would you choose and why?
I would be floored if it ever became a TV show. Seeing your creation come to life like that must be one of the most incredible feelings for a writer. I think movies can be more splashy, but shows are really able to dig into the details of the world building and characters.
5. Did you have to do any research for The Bitterwine Oath? If you did, what was your favorite piece of information you came across for your book?
I live just a few hours away from where the book is set in East Texas, so my husband and I went on a camping trip to Sabine National Forest. We stumbled on San Augustine, which ended up being a perfect inspiration for many aspects of San Solano (which is fictional). My favorite find was Christ Church Episcopal. I ended up using it as inspiration for the church that serves as the Wardens’ hideout. Here’s a picture I took of it on our trip.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t be afraid to revise. It’s easy to feel protective of your words and think they’re good as is, but I can almost guarantee you’ll end up liking the end result even better if you’re not afraid to cut and tinker. That doesn’t mean you have to apply all the feedback you receive from other writers or even industry professionals, but I believe every writer should accept notes with an open mind and objectively consider whether they could make the story better.
7. Is there anything else you would like to let the readers know about your book?
It was important to me not to pit the romance against Nat’s heroic duties too much. I think there’s already a lot of messaging in our society that says young women can’t have both a heroic calling and a satisfying romance. The tension between the two can make for really good storytelling, which is why I think you see a lot of YA characters having to choose between living out their love story or fulfilling their greater purpose; however, I didn’t want Nat to have to do that. Freeing myself from the temptation to sabotage the love story for the sake of the plot made it more enjoyable to write, and I hope it’s enjoyable to read. If you like a heaping side of sweet romance with your spooky, Southern Gothic entree, I think you’ll have fun reading this book.
The Bitterwine Oath is a chilling, atmospheric book that left me gripping the pages and grappling with the fears and intense moments that plagued this town and the main character. I was captivated by the storytelling, intriguing characters, and eerie world building, and all of that created one intense story filled with mystery and dark magic.
The Bitterwine Oath beautifully blends horror, mystery, real-life fears, and the paranormal together, with an excellent dash of romance. There are chilling moments that grab your attention and pull you into this gripping story. There were moments where I wasn’t expecting the story to take a certain turn, but I was pleasantly surprised. I was enamored with this story and its characters, and I needed to know how everything was going to end. West truly knows how to keep her readers hooked to the page.
West has created unforgettable characters, some with haunting pasts just as haunting as the town. The main protagonist, Natalie, starts off worried about what will happen after her and her friends leave for college. What will happen to their friendships once they all leave town? But that fear slowly gets put on the back burner when animals start dying, people start acting oddly, and Natalie’s dreams turn to terrifying nightmares. She never thought that the cult that killed dozens of men is actually real – she always thought it was just gossip. But it’s real, the monsters that plague her nightmares are real, and they’re coming for the people in this town…and her.
But luckily for this town and its people, Natalie is one heck of a brave character. She knows her past possibly holds the key to ending all the bloodshed and ending a curse. Yet her past is filled with not just a dark history but also dark and dangerous magic, and she will have to come to terms with what really happened many years ago and what truly makes up her past and potentially her future.
West not only creates characters that felt real, but she’s also created a storyline that wonderfully weaves together different plot points and structures. That alone creates a story that flows well together. West has also created a creepy and eerie town that is bound to leave you up at night. The creatures she’s created caused chills along my spine and gooseflesh along my arms. I rarely get creeped out with horror and mystery stories, but The Bitterwine Oath did exactly that for me. West has truly crafted a world building masterpiece with an exceptional story.
If you’re looking for a haunting tale, both with real and internal demons, and an atmospheric eerie setting, then I definitely recommend picking up The Bitterwine Oath.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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