Review: Nine Candles of Deepest Black

Nine Candles of Deepest Black - Matthew S. Cox

(I got a copy from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.)


A little lengthy at times, but overall an enjoyable "coming of (witchcraft) age" story that, while resting on archetypical elements, turns out to go deeper than what could be expected at first. Even though, looking at it with a more mature eye, I wouldn't shelve it as a favourite, I can say that teenage!me would probably have loved it (I really was into that kind of witchcraft stories at the time).


For once, I'll start with the elements I found problematic. First, depending on its moments, the story reminded me of "The Craft"—incidentally, a movie I had liked when it came out in 1996—since it rests on similar premises: girl moves to a new town, arrives in a school where she doesn't know anyone, quickly becomes friends with the local wannabe-witches, then becomes the last member they needed to perform their rituals... and said rituals turn out to be not-so-nice magic after all. I don't know if this was on purpose or not (after all, the author listed his inspirations at the end of the book, so I don't see why some would have been hidden and others not). This said, this kind of plot is definitely not unique, and I've seen it in several other movies and books, so...


Quite a few tropes, like the ones mentioned above, are also involved—the goth-looking girls being bullied because they dress in black, the Ouija board... I'd deem this as "problematic... or not", because truth be told, there are days when I just love myself a handful of tropes.


Finally, another thing I sometimes had trouble with were the descriptions, more specifically the ones about clothes. They're not bad; it just felt odd when Paige's outfit, for instance, was described every time she changed. The really strange thing here is that a character not changing clothes during a whole movie or series spanning more than a couple of days would bother me, yet when I see it mentioned in written form, actually I'd prefer it not to be. This is clearly linked to the medium: I've had the same feeling with other novels, too. As for other descriptions, the ones of the "mirror world" were creepy-good, although I wasn't too impressed with the antagonist's appearance, to be honest.


Where "Nine Candles" shone for me, on the other hand, was on the tropes it did -not- use, and on the presence of Paige's family. For instance, in this story, you won't find the typical, vomit-inducing love polygon, causing the main character to balance between which love interest to choose why the world is getting destroyed. Vapid love has no place here, as another character quickly finds out when she fails to get what she wants, and the one truly strong love is actually the one of family bonds. Because what's thankfully missing as well is the Absent Parents trope, with our MC happily traipsing around unsupervised like every 16-year-old in the world does.


In fact, Paige's family is very present, and turned from slightly annoying in the first chapters to a solid cluster that nothing can break. "Annoying" because of the initial situation: the father depressed and absent in mind after the death of the elder sister Amber, the mother only paying attention the younger sister Melissa, and Paige being somewhat invisible in the middle—it was a bit extreme, and led to Paige appearing at first like a pouting child. Especially since Melissa is really, really cute and nice, and not at all the spoiled brat cliché often expected when younger siblings are mentioned. But then, it turned into situations where Paige made a fragile truce with her mother, rediscovered her relationship with Melissa, and more. And Paige's "wish" during the ritual (not a spoiler, everybody did expect The Ritual, right?) was a noble one, not a selfish one, confirming her character as a good person.


Families are present throughout the whole novel: as loved ones; as people to trust and who'll support you even though they're not convinced you're saying the truth; as potential victims; as triggers of darker deeds; as ways of highlighting to which extent some characters are superficial, too. More than one aspect, and more than one family, is explored here, and I really liked that.


Conclusion: in its theme, not particularly original, yet definitely worth it for the inclusion of family themes (not only biological families—Paige and Co are also a second family for Sofia, for instance). It would make a good coming of age-slash-horror story for teenage readers. 3.5 stars.