Burn the Dark – S. A. Hunt

Robin is a YouTube celebrity gone-viral with her intensely-realistic witch hunter series. But even her millions of followers don’t know the truth: her series isn’t fiction.

Her ultimate goal is to seek revenge against the coven of witches who wronged her mother long ago. Returning home to the rural town of Blackfield, Robin meets friends new and old on her quest for justice. But then, a mysterious threat known as the Red Lord interferes with her plans….

Over the last year (plus), I’m really discovering that urban fantasy that’s right on the edge of horror (or horror that’s right on the edge of urban fantasy), is something that I just crave. Although I’ve only read the first book in each, the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey, and the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey, seem like they fit that description perfectly.

And I’m gonna go ahead and add S. A. Hunt’s Malus Domestica series to that list, because Burn the Dark impressed the hell out of me with its blend of eldritch horror, urban fantasy, and a great cast of characters. Goddamn…this was just fantastic!

My expectations for this book were quickly shaken up, because I kind of assumed that Robin Martine would be the sole POV character for the book, and that’s not the case at all. In fact, there’s a decently large cast of characters and several POVs here. That said, Robin is certainly the character at the center of this book. She’s a witch hunter, and kind of a badass. She travels around in her van, hunting witches, and making YouTube videos of her adventures (which her subscribers think are fictional) that she’s cleverly monetized. It’s a living, but it’s also very personal to her: Robin’s mother was killed by a coven of witches. She’s on a years-long mission of revenge.

She returns to her hometown of Blackfield, Georgia to complete her mission, where she meets lots of new acquaintances, and they all form a bit of a Scooby Gang. This book is loaded with pop culture references, and Hunt seems to really pay tribute to some great books/shows/movies in this one.

I never want to presume any particular influence on the part of an author, but holy hell, I could not help but see Joel as a character deeply influenced by Lafayette from True Blood! Joel is one of the first new friends Robin makes when she’s back in town, and he’s amazing. A gay Black man who works as a chef, drives a classic car called Black Velvet, and has attitude that goes to eleven. JOEL FUCKING RULES! I wish there could’ve been more with him in this book, but he factors into the story in a big way.

And then there’s almost like a mini coming-of-age horror novel tucked away inside Burn the Dark, one that started giving me wicked IT & Summer of Night vibes. A teenager named Wayne has recently moved to Blackfield. He & his father have actually settled in Robin’s childhood home. Wayne is kinda nerdy & super relatable, and he & the small circle of friends he falls into have their own side-adventure, dealing with the creepier supernatural elements of their town.

Aside from being quite effective with both the horror & urban fantasy aspects, Burn the Dark also explores some more serious social issues. Wayne, his father, and Joel are Black, so we see the subtle & not-so-subtle racism these characters face. Additionally, different characters are affected by things like addiction, homophobia, mental illness, PTSD, grief…there’s a lot to take in.

Burn the Dark is a hell of a start to a series…it’s unique, taking some familiar-feeling elements & shaking them into something new. While there are some dark & upsetting themes at play, the tone of the book is frequently campy & spooky-fun. Hunt also brings an incredibly vibrant & diverse cast of characters into this world, with queer characters, a disabled character, characters with mental illnesses…the focus on diversity & representation is strong in this book!

Yeah, I mean…fuck yeah. Burn the Dark is Extremely My Kinda Thing™️ & I’m really excited to see what’s in store for these characters in the rest of the Malus Domestica series!

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