About the Book
In 1909, in a California that never was, a creature in a tan frock coat watches Etta from the top of a mountain….
Deep in the old growth redwoods of Northern California, a coven of forest witches guard the trees, the plants, and the creatures who depend on the forest. Etta Erwin is the youngest witch in the Mendocino Coven, born with more earth magic at her core than any witch in over five generations. By tradition, she’s her grandmother’s heir, destined to lead the coven when Milly steps down. None of that explains why a powerful magic user, a stranger, first tries to kill her, and then won’t stop watching her from the mountaintop.
Wyatt John Erwin was born with a sorcerer’s power, but was never trained and most of that power is out of his reach. Etta is the center of his life, and he’s determined to find a way to end the threat, no matter what that takes. But the second time the stranger attacks, he goes after Wyatt too. One of the coven witches who raised Wyatt sends a message to the Russian sorcerer’s colony near Fort Ross, asking for help. Help arrives in the form of Sebastian Stefanovich Sokolov, one of the most powerful sorcerers on the West Coast.
Etta and Wyatt’s life will never be the same. Long buried secrets and betrayals are unearthed, the danger grows, and the true nature of the threat is revealed. There’s love and joy too, lost family found, and a wish fulfilled.
And through both the good and the bad, Etta and Wyatt hold on to each other, and remember the secret is to never let go….
Published on June 30, 2021
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This book was sent by the author for an honest review.
Jaime Lee Moyer is an author I hugely admire. I have loved every book of hers I’ve read. She has a way with dealing with emotions subtly that just works for me. She doesn’t shy away from hard, darker moments, either. She has an unflinching ability to look at the whole human experience and present that in unique ways. I always savor her books, and I learn a lot from reading them.
When she asked me if I’d be interested in reading her newest release, and first foray into self-publishing, I jumped on it. When I realized it was a book set in an alternative West, I got really excited. I’ve just finished writing my own fantasy series set in an alternative Wild West, so I suppose the setting itself really got my blood pumping.
Youngest is one of those books that crept up on me, I suppose I could say. I’d qualify this one as a slow burn that leads to a raging inferno. I enjoyed the pacing, the slow and steady build of things that you don’t even really realize are building up to a pressure point until it happens. I will say, however, if you aren’t a fan of slow-burn novels, you should be aware that that’s exactly what this book is: a slow burn. A subtle build. A mix of elements and details that explode powerfully toward the end, but it takes time to get there. If you aren’t a reader who enjoys savoring, then you might bounce off this book.
Set in an alternative California, the world of Youngest really drew me in. It’s both recognizable in so many details, and yet completely different. Moyer draws on cryptozoology and the like to create some of her creatures, like Sasquatches (I suppose Sasquatch would qualify as cryptozoology? I’m not terribly well versed in this sort of thing.). There’s also magic just about everywhere, from earth witches to sorcerers, to numerous other mystical creatures. I truly enjoyed this sense of magic and wonder, and while some of these do carry a darker edge, I liked seeing how Moyer wove so many different elements together to make the California of this book feel both rooted in reality, and otherworldly at the same time.
The book itself is fairly narrow in scope. There’s a whole lot of worldbuilding being done, but Moyer chooses her cast and the setting carefully. It doesn’t expand a whole lot. There aren’t a lot of long journeys and unexplored places. Most of the book takes place at a cabin, and people come and go from there. The character cast that shows up is likewise tightly knit. There’s not a hundred characters for you to get to know, and there aren’t an equal amount of cities for you to remember. Instead, it’s all narrowed down to a few specific points and a few specific people. This is another thing I love, and I don’t see it often in fantasy. This narrow focus is a huge boon to the story, as it allowed Moyer to really dig into what she does best. It gave her the ability to not just create and world and characters, but to focus on all their complexities as well, and really make them shine. In a way, the setting was so vivid, it was a character in its own right.
The themes at the center of Youngest are love and family, which I really enjoy explorations of in the books I read. This is also, perhaps, where Moyer truly shines. Her ability to subtly play with emotions, her unflinching desire to look at both the dark and lighter emotions and the tangled webs we often find ourselves in truly makes Youngest a book I couldn’t put down. It’s so unflinchingly human. This is, perhaps, why I think this being a slow-burn novel was the best possible thing for this book. You can’t just rush a lot of these personal and emotional developments. Moyer savors the slow build of her characters, and as a result, I truly felt connected to them, to Etta and her complexities, how torn she feels, and how she finds solace in Wyatt, the man she has spent so long loving.
But it’s not quite so simple as that, and it never really is. While Etta and Wyatt’s relationship has long been established, there are moments of strain, moments where the relationship, solid as it is, feels the strain of being pulled in different directions by these two very different people. I loved this, because no matter how long you’re in a relationship, and no matter how long you’ve loved someone, that love and that relationship is never really easy. It requires work. There will always be bumps in the road. Furthermore, Etta’s grandmother wants Etta to lead the coven she’s part of, and there are a lot of tangled emotions in this. Along with this, Wyatt discovers his own family. So while they are solid with each other, and there is no contrived relationship angst and drama, there are a lot of things changing, and a lot of outside pressures pushing in on these two that force them to bend and grow in unexpected ways.
There are also outside events playing a part as well. Lumber barons, and a stalker, attacks from unknown sources, and people from outside are contacted to help, which only makes matters even more complicated. Not everything is good and wholesome. There is darkness as well, but the balance is cleverly struck, with as much of this inner-family and personal drama being balanced with a nice counterpoint of outside pressures as well.
And yet, the book never truly lost its magic and wonder to me. There are hints of a sprawling world, and more places Moyer can explore and expand if she chooses, and I genuinely hope she does. I’ve read all of this author’s books, and this one really hit the literary equivalent of the Goldilocks zone for me. Sweet and thoughtful, with characters that shine brighter than the sun and a story that became part of me, Youngest was an amazing read.