You had me at pirate witches.
It definitely helped that this book took place on Halloween and the book’s
victims characters were tasked with making it through a series of elaborate haunted house escape rooms. But, pirate witches, people!
There’s a $10,000 prize if you make it through all thirteen realms, something Lisette desperately needs. It sounds too good to be true and when Lisette begins her journey through the realms she begins to wonder if they are as real as they seem.
It’s a shame I found Lisette so deplorable; she’ll happily throw anyone under the bus if she thinks it will benefit her, even the person she claims is her best friend. As such, I wasn’t exactly cheering her on. I probably would have felt an evil laugh trying to escape if she’d met an appropriately grisly end.
However, someone who had even some of the qualities I’d hope to find in this underdog would likely have failed one of the early levels and this would have been a much shorter book. Lisette’s catchphrase (“Holy tamales”) irritated me no end but, in hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I’d liked her.
“This place has a way of making monsters out of ordinary people.”
Although I was originally mostly here for the pirate witches, that part of the story wasn’t as developed as I would have liked. I’m pretty certain it could have been removed entirely and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book any less. The four covens and most of the things that happened after the final realm seemed unnecessary, as though those elements belonged in a different story.
The realms, though? They were so much fun. I loved exploring each one and anticipating how the people who failed each realm would exit the story. It was easy to visualise the dangers the characters were facing and I kept thinking I’d love to see a movie adaptation of this book.
While the cover was what originally drew my attention to this book (I still really like the design), it didn’t really fit the story. I thought the cover had a fantasy feel, maybe with a dash of romance thrown in. Sure, there were some fantasy elements here, but with its characters trying to survive hellish landscapes with creepy dolls, animals eager to devour them and a floor that literally is lava, this book had more of a horror vibe.
I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s next book.
“You’ll never finish the final realm! No one does!”
Content warnings include sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have some trouble. A derogatory term for physical disability is used by one of the characters (a comeuppance does come their way).
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sword and Silk Books for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
You don’t have to believe in magic for it to kill you.
Seventeen-year-old gymnast, Lisette Colbert, is skeptical of her criminal mother’s claim that they are descendants of pirate witches. But on Halloween night, Lisette will come face to face with indisputable proof.
Lured by a $10,000 prize, Lisette recruits her best friend Xavier and together they enter The 13th Realm of Hell – an escape-room style Haunted House run by a mysterious coven. Xavier has his reservations, especially after reading the fine print on the waiver to enter.
Lisette is too focused on proving herself to consider the risks. With him or without him, she is determined to complete all thirteen realms. If she wins the prize money, she’ll avoid eviction from her beloved French Quarter apartment. But the witches who run the show don’t write happy endings.