Set in present-day Ireland, this YA debut from South African thriller writer Watson (The Cutting Room) tells the tale of two warring clans of druidic descendants: the augurs, who have a preternatural affinity for patterns, and the judges, who have a magical connection to nature. Both groups draw their power from sacred objects, called nemeta, most of which are now controlled by judges. Without access to nemeta, the augurs will become extinct, so 17-year-old Wren Silke goes undercover as an intern at Harkness House, the charity run by chief judge Calista Harkness, hoping to glean tactical information. Although Wren’s augur abilities allow her to see the future, she fails to predict Calista’s intense scrutiny—or the attraction she feels for Calista’s bodyguard, Tarquin Gallagher. Despite a contrived setup and an overly complex mythology, Watson’s core characters still enchant. Calista is a nuanced, sympathetic antagonist; Wren’s struggles between love and duty, fate and free will are transfixing; and Wren and Tarquin’s forbidden romance feels at once modern and folkloric. Ages 14–up. (Nov.)
Gr 7 Up—Wren, an orphan raised in a community of augurs by her grandfather, is encouraged to stop the yearly wren hunt. But she doesn't. Readers live through the excruciating hunt with Wren as she hides in the ruin of a cottage once inhabited by Arabella de Courcy, an artist who had fallen in love with a tree man and is eventually killed by him. Epigraphs, perhaps from de Courcy's diary, are interwoven into Wren's story in such a subtle way that one doesn't immediately realize their significance. After the bloodshed of the hunt, Wren goes home in time to be chosen to spy on the Harkness Foundation, the epicenter of the judges, who are apparently bent on destroying the augurs. A slow-moving story at first, the novel picks up the pace with the introduction of Tarc, the head of security for the judges, and his forbidden and mutual attraction to Wren. What will happen when he discovers Wren's true mission and identity? Among increasingly blurry allegiances, the ending is a shocker and entirely satisfying. The fantastical work is reminiscent of Maggie Stiefvater's "Raven Cycle," with its search for a Welsh king in a Latin-speaking forest, and Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" series. Watson brings a deep and visceral voice to old stories as well as an authentic and modern urban sensibility, making this a highly stylized read. VERDICT Give this title a prominent place in YA collections. Highly recommend.—Janet Gross, Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, MAHigh School
Augurs scry prophecies from patterns, but 17-year-old Wren Silke is uncertain about her own future.
Raised by her gruff grandfather Smith, Wren distrusts her own dark powers of apophenia but yearns to protect her "grove" of fellow augurs in Kilshamble, Ireland. To help the augurs in their secret war against the fearsome, violent judges, Wren reluctantly goes undercover, intending to find the Daragishka Knot and restore the augurs' power sources. Interning at the judge stronghold of Harkness House, Wren must deflect the avid attention of Calista Harkness; avoid Calista's nephew, predatory bully David; and struggle with her crush on brooding bruiser Tarc. Wren's visible differences—she is half-white, half-other, dark-haired and brown-skinned, courtesy of an absent, perhaps Indian father—are less about ethnic identity and more symbolic. Wren suffers from "Chosen One" syndrome—i.e., inexplicable allure, checklistlike prophecy, pivotal role in mythic battle—but is oddly passive; after Wren experiences Betrayal and Sacrifice, Surrender (the third element of the story surrounding the Knot) seems like an inevitability rather than a choice. Watson (The Cutting Room, 2013, etc.) excels at the quotidian details, but the fantastic elements are ill-explained and impressionistic: The Knot is a confusing MacGuffin, the magical terminology clunky, and the mythology contradictory.
Lush, if meandering and muddled; good for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black. (Fantasy. 14-18)
[R]eminiscent of Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle . . . Watson brings a deep and visceral voice to old stories as well as an authentic and modern urban sensibility, making this a highly stylized read.” School Library Journal, starred review
“Watson's core characters . . . enchant. Calista is a nuanced, sympathetic antagonist; Wren's struggles between love and duty, fate and free will are transfixing; and Wren and Tarquin's forbidden romance feels at once modern and folkloric.” Publishers Weekly
“The mythology introduced in this debut is lovely and haunting . . . [For] readers who loved the dark lore and lyrical language of Melissa Albert's The Hazel Wood.” Booklist
“Lush. . . [G]ood for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black.” Kirkus Reviews
“In this moody magical thriller, a girl with a secret identity and a talent that doubles as a curse has to outwit her enemies, survive her own damaging power, and follow her heart. For fans of . . . [t]he Shannara Chronicles.” Buzzfeed
“Wren's a feisty but vulnerable hero . . . Readers who enjoy the mix of modernity and mythology of Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle will find that same blend here.” BCCB
“[A] compelling take on druid mythology combined with a dash of family mystery. . . . The novel asks how knowledge not only defines but also changes someone, engendering interesting surprises.” Foreword Reviews
“This book will be a great read for those who enjoy fantasy, romance, and a little bit of mystery.” School Library Connection
“The Wren Hunt rings with ancient, subtle magic, masterfully transmuted into words. A tale that gets into your bones.” Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author of THE BONE SEASON