Review | The Lighthouse Witches – C.J. Cooke

About the Book

Two sisters go missing on a remote Scottish island. Twenty years later, one is found–but she’s still the same age as when she disappeared. The secrets of witches have reached across the centuries in this chilling Gothic thriller from the author of the acclaimed The Nesting. 

When single mother Liv is commissioned to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse on a remote Scottish island, it’s an opportunity to start over with her three daughters–Luna, Sapphire, and Clover. When two of her daughters go missing, she’s frantic. She learns that the cave beneath the lighthouse was once a prison for women accused of witchcraft. The locals warn her about wildlings, supernatural beings who mimic human children, created by witches for revenge. Liv is told wildlings are dangerous and must be killed.

Twenty-two years later, Luna has been searching for her missing sisters and mother. When she receives a call about her youngest sister, Clover, she’s initially ecstatic. Clover is the sister she remembers–except she’s still seven years old, the age she was when she vanished. Luna is worried Clover is a wildling. Luna has few memories of her time on the island, but she’ll have to return to find the truth of what happened to her family. But she doesn’t realize just how much the truth will change her.

Published October 5, 2021
Buy the book

This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I will admit, I’m not much of a horror reader. I don’t really get into those kinds of books, and it takes a very specific kind of scary to get under my skin and actually make me feel much of anything. I do, however, love gothic stories. I love the slow creep of the abnormal, the subtle spread of darkness. Mostly, I love the atmosphere, that oppressive, looming vibe that permeates gothic books so well. If there is one thing gothic horror authors have mastered, it’s atmosphere. 

The Lighthouse Witches is a slow burn book. The story is told with three different timelines and it will take you some time to be able to figure out how they all mix together and impact each other. This isn’t a book that hands you all the answers right away. Rather, it makes the reader work for them. Not everything is clear, and you won’t understand all the details you’ll want to understand until sometime later in the book. However, once that “ah ha” moment strikes, things move forward at a breakneck pace, picking up momentum until that breathless, unforgettable ending. 

The book begins with one Olivia Stay, an artist who is hired to paint the inside of a lighthouse on a Scottish island. She, along with her three daughters, travels up there to do the thing. The lighthouse itself is supposedly built atop the ruins of an old prison where witches used to be kept. Sapphire, Olivia’s teenaged daughter, ends up finding an old journal which detailed the events that transpired there hundreds of years ago, the witch burnings which transpired in the 1600s. 

The village outside of the lighthouse is a place that almost becomes a personality unto itself. The people there are friendly, but deeply superstitious, believing in changelings and various other magical creatures. It’s a small town, and remote, almost closed off by its location, which really allowed C.J. Cooke to lean into its development, and ultimately, use it as a tool to really layer in that subtle, creeping darkness that gothic horror is so known for. And it works in spades. The town, on its surface, is delightful, but it doesn’t take long to realize that not everything is as it should be, and that division between how things appear to how things are, is really where this novel flourishes. 

The cave under the lighthouse was supposedly where witches were held before they were burnt at the stake. Lore has it, that once upon a time, witches haunted the island, creating a whole host of otherworldly nasties, like changelings and wildlings. The lore of this cave, and the events that transpired there, mix with the quaint town and all its oddities quite nicely, creating an ominous stew that gave the entire book a certain, dark feel that I just loved. That creeping, ominous dread I felt so acutely throughout. 

Soon, two of Olivia’s daughters go missing, and another thread of the story picks up some twenty-two years later, when the one daughter who did not go missing, Luna, is pregnant with her first child, and still dealing with the trauma of what happened when she was younger on that island. She gets a call from the police that they’ve found one of her sisters, only her sister is still seven, not an adult as she should be. As you can expect, that is quite an event. Luna goes up there to see what’s going on. Ultimately, she has to return to the place where it all went wrong to figure out what happened, and how she can move forward in her own life. 

Woven in through this is the third timeline, which details events as they transpired in the 1600s. All of this mixes together to create a fascinating slow-burn story, carefully written to not only engage readers, but to wrap them up in a multi-layered mystery that spans generations. The interplay of past to present fascinated me. I really enjoy books that explore how past events impact present situations, and so this timeline hopping as readers go from one thread to another, to another, each in different times, kept me quite engaged. 

One of the things that I really ended up appreciating was just how well the author wove clues throughout the various narratives, which I didn’t even pick up at the time, but ended up looking back on with appreciation for just the subtle cleverness of them. This is one of those books where things matter that you might not think matter, and as you start drawing conclusions, you’ll look back and see things differently. 

The moody, quaint landscape also ended up being a huge boon to the story. I don’t know many places much more gothic than a lighthouse on some Scottish island, so the place was chosen well for the story that needed to be told. Woven throughout are bits and pieces of mythology, folklore, things you may or may not recognize from myth and legend. Reality, history, and lore all mix together to create a story that is as moody and broody as the landscape itself. 

The Lighthouse Witches was a compelling, clever, subtle story told with an artistry I truly appreciated. Beautifully written, with a lot of emotional depths and layers, this book is sure to please any fan of gothic horror. 

5/5 stars