Review: The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

Review by Eliza

Underdog doesn’t begin to describe Winnie Wednesday. She’s more than an underdog: she’s an outcast, and she’s determined to restore her family’s honor and role in Hemlock Falls. To do that, she must go into the forest and prove she has what it takes to be a hunter by killing a monster and surviving a night in the forest without falling prey to the creatures that threaten her town, and the world beyond.

Title: The Luminaries | Series: The Luminaries | Pub Date: 2022-11-01 | Pages: 304 | Genre: YA/Fantasy | Source: NetGalley | Starred Review

The Luminaries Review

It doesn’t matter that I’ve never dreamed of hunting monsters or risked my life to kill one: Winnie Wednesday is a very relatable character. She’s an outcast in her community of Luminaries, and as such, she’s either treated like she’s invisible or bullied and teased. 

Her family’s status is a big part of Winnie’s motivation, although she likely would have aspired to the role of hunter even if they weren’t outcasts. She comes from a long line of renowned hunters, including her mother (before they became outcasts) and her grandmother. Her aunt is currently lead hunter.

Anyone who’s ever felt on the outside, who’s been bullied, can connect with Winnie through that. And when Winnie takes the first trial, she ends up in a desperate situation, living a lie.

Plenty of readers will relate to letting people believe a lie or embellishing a story if it makes them more popular.

What Winnie doesn’t count on is the guilt, and how this impacts her growth. This is one of the strongest elements of this book. Winnie is as complex as any person you know. She longs for acceptance, and she wanted status. When she passes the first trial, she gets it, and more. Her anger boils to the surface. She starts questioning the way her world works, and whether it’s right. Winnie’s world becomes more complex as she wrestles with her feelings and struggles to chart a course for her future.

While this book does a great job of delving into Winnie’s growth, it definitely doesn’t skimp on the action. There’s plenty, through the trials and the training.

For those that love monsters, there are plenty here, as well as some interesting spins on mythical creatures. 

Even things that don’t seem like major plot points come into play later in the story, and the author expertly crafts this tale, trusting readers to pick up on the details. 

Yes, this is a YA coming of age story. However, there are plenty of adult themes, such as wrestling with the structure of your society, with politics and policies, and with conspiracies.

The Luminaries sets up one clear focal point for Winnie: to pass the trials and become a hunter. However, it leaves breadcrumbs trailing through. It’s clear the question of how Winnie’s family became outcasts and who framed her dad will be central to book 2. We also still don’t know who the werewolf is, or what the Whisperer is, exactly. This doesn’t feel like a cheat because The Luminaries completes the focal arc for book 1, and like reality, everything doesn’t wrap up neatly at the end. But this is a good thing for readers because we can anticipate spending more time in Winnie’s world, exploring these and other mysteries. 

Don’t miss this one. It’s a gripping story, from start to finish. 5/5 stars.

Eliza Bio

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