Classic Monsters: Witches in Passarella’s Wither

But Abby still wasn’t afraid, she was curious. And when she found the gravestones, she ceased to be simply a visitor to this place – she knew she’d found a home.

They lay in a tumbled heap, three stones so old they almost seemed natural rock. Abby kneeled down to peer at the first name carved into the green face of the first stone. She read the letters eroded by three hundred seasons of wind, rain, and snow.

SARAH HUTCHINS
CONDEMNED WITCH
HANGED THIS DAY 1699

Wither by J.G. Passarella

Wither by J.G. Passarella

Wither is a horror novel about the supernatural occurrences close to Halloween in the town of Windale, Massachusetts. In the 1600s, Windale was the scene of its own small witch hunt: three young women were hanged for witchcraft and murder. In the modern day, Wendy, Karen, and Abby are all being tormented by vivid nightmares about that hanging, and the activities of the accused witches before they were put to death. Each of them thinks that they are the alone in their insomnia, but each of them start to draw connections between their own bad dreams and the murders and disappearances starting to appear around Windale leading up to the town’s large Halloween festival.

What a great Halloween read! This book had it all – creepy monsters, violent deaths, some interesting details on early American history (through the information specific to Windale was invented), and a well developed magical system. Wither doesn’t attempt to reinvent the genre, it just sticks with the elements that horror does best. I loved the witches of Wither because they were what I expected – wronged women who seek revenge on their community, and have a strange pact with an otherworldly being. This was a fun, quick read that spooked me a little, but it never got too graphic, so readers that like fear but not gore (like me!) will still enjoy this one.

I have to admit to some disappointment by the characterization in Wither. Each character was exactly what I expected, with very little variety or complexity. Wendy is young college student whose father is the college dean. She resists the normal front that her family attempts, and has developed an interest in Wicca (yes, that’s right – Wendy the witch). She loves nature and seeks the power to do good. Wendy had so much potential – her own pursuit of power would have been far more interesting if she acted with a little more self-interest. Wendy’s fellow student Alex at least did make a definite mistake regarding his curiosity of Wendy’s ritual, but that was quickly blown over without much effort on his part, and I would have liked to see a little more personal development from him on that front. Karen, a pregnant unmarried college professor, had the most interesting conflicts regarding her relationship with the child’s father and the staff’s reaction to her pregnancy, but there wasn’t nearly as much self-examination as I would have liked. That being said, each of these characters filled the role they played in the plot, and horror isn’t usually known for character development, so I was still able to enjoy the plot on its own.

While I was a little underwhelmed by the characters in Wither, I loved the setting. Windale is a town invented for this book, but the history of the town added a lot to my enjoyment of the book. Windale had a textile mill in the 1800s that burned down, and so they developed a popular Halloween festival to exploit their connection to the witch trials – a few years after Salem’s infamous witch trials, Windale hung three women for witchcraft and murder. We are able to see the effects of thie connection through several characters in Wither – Wendy is uncomfortable with the connection as she wishes more people understood Wicca, Art is working on his doctorate and through his knowledge of the town’s history has dismissed the hangings as more of a murder trial than a true witch hunt, and Abby stumbles upon the witche’s graves and instantly decides that she will make the area her own secret hideaway. I loved the layers to this story – rather than focusing on a single point in Windale history, the different layers of the town over hundreds of years made it feel real.

In all, I’ll give Wither a 7 out of 10. Readers of classic horror will appreciate the straight-forward narrative of Wither, and readers interested in history will enjoy the complex history of the town of Windale. However, Wither is fairly predictable and doesn’t offer much other than horror, so if horror isn’t your thing, this isn’t the book for you.

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