I'm struggling to not over-share here, so I'm just going to cite the official book blurb to explain the set-up for this novel:
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina meets Stranger Things in award-winning author S. A. Hunt’s Burn the Dark, first in the Malus Domestica horror action-adventure series about a punk YouTuber on a mission to bring down witches, one vid at a time.
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....
I really love the concept for this book/series. No matter what I may end up saying below, I just want to say that Hunt deserves all sorts of kudos for coming up with it and executing the idea so well.
The Sabrina bit mentioned above comes from Robin, a childhood friend and someone new to town she meets when she returns. The Strange Things bit comes from a kid who has just moved to town (and into Robin's old house—old bedroom) and the neighborhood kids he's become friends with. Either group could probably be the focus of a book, the two of them together is what really works. I thought all the characters were well-drawn and interesting, and I would like to spend time with them all (except the witches, I think they could be developed a bit more—but that risks making them less threatening).
The magic system in this book is fantastic. Hunt gives us enough to understand it (and to see that it's well-developed), but doesn't drown us in the details that govern it. There's something very raw, very rooted, almost tangible about it.
Hunt's writing could be described the same way. It's almost impossible not to see everything she's describing; when she writes a tense scene, you feel it; and it's engrossing.
Compelling writing, strong characters, a killer hook, and fast-moving plot with a great magic system—S. this is basically a recipe for a book that I'll celebrate. But the entire time I read it, I kept thinking "I just don't like this." I kept reading because it's precisely the kind of book I should rave about and I kept waiting for the switch to flip. But it's just not my thing.
It's not often I have this reaction, but it made me feel like Wendig's Miriam Black books, Kadrey's Sandman Slim, or Stross's Laundry Files. In theory, each of those series is exactly my cup of tea. And I didn't enjoy any of them (and I've read multiple volumes in two of those series). It's an odd phenomenon, and I wish I understood it.
Still, it's so well done that I can't rate it lower than 3 Stars. I didn't like it, but I respect it enough to recognize that it deserves at least that.
Eh, what do I know? Go read a post by someone who really dug this book instead.