Book Review: Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Title: Payback’s a Witch (The Witches of Thistle Grove #1)

Author: Lana Harper

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: October 5, 2021

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ+

One Sentence Summary: After almost nine years away, Emmy is back in Thistle Grove to arbitrate a witchy tournament and gets roped into getting revenge on a man who broke her heart and two-timed two fellow friends and witches.

Overall

Payback’s a Witch is a witchy read, and perfect as a Halloween read. Set during October in a witchy Midwestern town, it focuses around three female witches who were all hurt by the same man, also a witch, and who now want to get their revenge by ensuring he doesn’t win the tournament that determines which family gets a magical boost. The revenge and the tournament were not as strong as I expected, but the romance was so good I could almost forgive it. This is such a fun, witchy read with great characters and a charming Halloween town. I loved the complexity of the characters and their different relationships with Thistle Grove. Even if the romance was formulaic, Emmy and Talia were such an incredible couple that it actually flowed really naturally. Overall, definitely a great October read!

Extended Thoughts

In Thistle Grove, Halloween is always in the air and magic is everywhere, though only the witches know it’s there. Every fifty years, the four founding families hold a tournament to declare a Victor whose family receives quite a magical boost.

Emmy, the descendant of one of the founders (the weakest one, actually), left Thistle Grove almost nine years before when Gareth, also a descendant of a founder, broke her heart. After her father guilted her into it, she now returns to take up the arbiter’s mantle, and a duty she never sees coming.

But it isn’t so simple. Talia and Linden, both daughters of the other two founding families, were two-timed by Gareth and they now want revenge and Emmy’s involvement, and Emmy can’t stop thinking about Talia. But, with Thistle Grove wrapping itself around her and her magic returning and her feelings for Talia growing, Emmy becomes more torn between staying and leaving after the tournament.

Payback’s a Witch is a delightfully witchy read perfect for the Halloween season, especially as it’s set throughout October and Halloween is thick in the air. It’s cute and fun with a healthy dash of magic, but I found it a little lacking on the revenge front, though the strong romance was almost magnetic to the point where I almost forgot about the revenge.

As a revenge story, Payback’s a Witch was surprisingly light on it despite the focus on it in the description. As a matter of fact, Gareth didn’t even seem like a major player, so the whole revenge plot just felt more like a device to get the love interests together. Unfortunately, the revenge was tied up with the tournament and the tournament itself was equally lackluster. The challenges weren’t quite as in-depth or elaborate as I expected it to be for such powerful families, but offered a nice background to the romance story. I expected a story about three witches out to destroy a man and there would be many hilarious hijinks along the way. Sadly, it felt less like revenge and more like getting two of the characters together.

But, oh my goodness, I really enjoyed the romance in this book. Normally, I’m not a big fan of it, but I really enjoyed the relationship that developed between Emmy and Talia. It was sweet, heartwarming, and beautiful. Talia, for being the daughter of a family of necromancers, is surprisingly complicated and so much more than she appears. I loved getting to know her throughout the story, and I think she’s my favorite character. I sometimes hated the way Emmy treated her, but it helped add some really great tension to their story. Their romance hit all the right notes for me, even if it was formulaic in the typical romance novel way, so the witchy aspects of the story helped me out a lot. I’ve been looking all year for my favorite sapphic romance, and I think I finally found it.

Emmy, though, kind of drove me batty. She kept flip flopping and, while it made sense, it also didn’t and kind of felt childish. I could understand the struggle she had of spending years crafting herself into what she wanted to be instead of being who she is and now being faced with unmasking herself, but I felt it dragged a little too long. She also felt a little too self-absorbed to me, spending more time rediscovering herself and Thistle Grove than actually helping Talia and Linden take their revenge, which contributed to the flimsiness of the revenge plot. Though I did love the way she was with her friends and how she worked hard to repair her relationships. So, while she did bother me, I enjoyed seeing her grow and watching her make all the right decisions.

I loved everything about Thistle Grove. Most of the witchy books I read take place on the East Coast, so I was very pleasantly surprised to learn this one is set in the Midwest. Other than frequent mentions of Chicago, it felt like any other little witchy town, but I really liked that it was firmly established as a Midwestern witchy town. Thistle Grove is so magical without being outwardly magical. As far as I could tell, only the descendants of the four founding families actually have magic, but I guess the magic permeates the air so it always feels like Halloween, making it into a huge tourist attraction. I loved that each family’s magic was different and that winning the tournament had an effect on its potency. Since Talia is Emmy’s love interest, the reader really gets to know Talia’s family’s powers, which are both fascinating and a little creepy, but so amazing. Linden’s family’s magic sounded so incredibly lovely and made my Earth-loving heart just burst.

Payback’s a Witch is a really fun witchy read. It’s strength is definitely the romance, which I really loved even though I usually hate romance in books. I wish there had been more of a revenge story and more to the tournament, but it was really nice to get to know the families and Thistle Grove, so I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. Overall, Payback’s a Witch was a lot of fun with characters that blended really well together and absolutely does not lack in Halloween spirit.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to Berkley and NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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