The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Simon Pulse on March 6, 2018

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.View Spoiler »


It’s been ages since I read a debut novel that reached the heights of THE WICKED DEEP, with its gorgeous writing, atmospheric setting, and sympathetic villains.

Every June, the small coastal town of Sparrow, Oregon is flooded with tourists eager to take in the macabre Swan season. Swan season makes a spectacle of the darkest chapter in the town’s history, making a farce of the intentional drownings of Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan, accused of witchcraft in the 19th century. There’s something otherworldly about Sparrow and its inhabitants, like the baker who creates cakes to make people forget their worst memories and the woman who lives with her daughter on a nearby island and reads tea leaves.

But there’s more to Swan season than quaint whimsy and garish tourist traps: each year before the solstice, three girls are possessed by the Swan sisters and lead at least three boys to their deaths in the ocean. For hundreds of years, boys have drowned off the coast of Sparrow, with no suspects and no consequences. Until now.

This book gave me the wiggins in a big way! When Penny Talbot, local outcast and high school junior, attends the annual Swan party at the beach, she’s one of the only girls who refuse to go in the water. She knows all about the Swan sisters, and there’s no way she’ll let them take her. But some forces are beyond her control, and when Penny crosses paths with a mysterious young man named Bo, a series of events is set into motion that will change the story of Sparrow forever.

As far as the fantastical elements go, THE WICKED DEEP is steeped in vague folklore and witchy juju. There isn’t any traditional world building, no magic system, or explanation of why the execution of the Swan sisters cursed the town for 200 years. Despite the synopsis’ comparisons to Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic, if you’re looking for a story about witches and witchcraft, this probably isn’t the best pick for you.

The particulars of the curse and the history of both Penny’s family and the Swan sisters’ stories are revealed slowly, with details offered up sparingly at first. Trying to suss out which girls had been possessed by the Swan sisters and which boys would be killed was thrilling and fun. The romance between Penny and Bo was a bit underwhelming, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Although there’s a pretty obvious major twist in Penny and Bo’s story, I was quite surprised and pleased with how Ernshaw handled the details of it. I found I didn’t mind that I’d worked out the twist because I was so impressed with the direction it took. Whether you see the twist coming or not, this is a story that doesn’t lose its magic once the curtain’s peeled back, so to speak.

The only thing about this story that didn’t work well for me was its ending — or rather, its denouement. THE WICKED DEEP is a dark, dark story about murder, revenge, and thwarted love, and I’ll admit that I was expecting the final few chapters to live up to the darkness and end on a poignant, chilling note. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite happen. The final chapters actually felt a bit schmaltzy and trite, and it felt like they were tacked on to appease readers who don’t care for tragic endings.

Overall, THE WICKED DEEP is an accomplished story of murder, revenge, and true love that tugged on my heartstrings and will leave you with chills.

Do you plan on reading THE WICKED DEEP? What are your favourite chilling stories? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Gorgeous writing, atmospheric settings, and sympathetic villains—all wonderful things! I hadn’t know what this was about, but from your review it does sound really otherworldly and creepy. And I can see how it’d be fun trying to figure out who was possessed and who would be killed. Sorry the ending didn’t live up to expectations, but glad you enjoyed it overall!

    1. This one has pretty much everything, in my mind! Trying to figure out who was next — and who was actually a Swan sister — was so much fun. I actually ended up in a slump after reading this one, haha. The ending was a letdown but the rest of the book makes it worth it!

  2. Okay – this is the second review that I’ve seen recently that makes me want to read this one – plus I adore that cover.

    The ending does sound like a bit of a let down, but I’m still going to read this one because mostly it sounds like I shouldn’t miss out on all the good stuff!

    1. Isn’t the cover gorgeous? I’ll admit that I first requested this one because the witchy vibes the cover was giving me called out for me, but I ended up loving it more than expected. The ending was a bummer but I’ll forgive it…especially since this is a debut novel!

  3. I am seeing reviews of this more and more, and like yours, people are loving it. I don’t know for sure if it’s for me, but defintiely one to think about and keep in mind.

    1. I was definitely surprised by how assured Ernshaw’s writing is, particularly since she’s a debut author! If you’re feeling up for a creepy, romantic story, then this one is a good pick.

  4. WOAH!! This sounds SO SO good, and I am 100% sold on the concept. And the way you describe the writing and the atmoshpere?? I NEED! I’ll pick it up at the library when it becomes available.

    1. IT IS, NICK! So good. Shea Ernshaw’s writing is insanely good, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. Especially since this is her first book! 😱

  5. I’ve been so curious about this, and I’m intrigued by your review! Although I think I would have a similar reaction to the ending. Sounds like an editor insisting on a happy ending for YA readers🤔

    1. Honestly I didn’t know much about this one when I started reading it and didn’t really have expectations, but it blew me away. I agree, the ending felt like an editorial decision rather than an authorial one (just my take on it).

  6. I honestly did not think that this book was going to be so dark, and now I reallly want it!

    1. Neither did I, what with the blurb’s comparisons to Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic! But the darkness worked really well for me.

  7. Im a sucker for books about witches so I got a copy of this too. So happy to hear you really liked it!

    1. Hooray! Witches are the best, there’s something about a witchy story that always draws me right in.

  8. Oooh this sounds so cool. TBH I’m a total sucker for happy endings (even when it seems tacky) so maybe I should try this, hahaha!

    1. LOL well in that case, I’d say you should go for it! Just don’t read it when you’re home alone — it’s really unsettling.

    • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    • 4 years ago

    I hate when the ending feels out of place with the rest of the book. Especially when its dark and swings the other way. Makes it seem artificial. Glad you enjoyed everything else though!

    1. Normally I’m not a stickler about endings, but when the rest of the book is as accomplished as The Wicked Deep is then a lacklustre ending is a major let down. Other than the ending, I loved this one!

    • Karen

    • 4 years ago

    I wouldn’t have thought a book referencing Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus would be dark lol Sounds excellent though.

    Karen @ For What It’s Worth

    1. Me neither! I was actually kind of shocked by it at first, haha. It worked really well, though.

  9. This sounds really good, right up until the ending anyway. Sometimes a happy ending just doesn’t work!

    1. I agree, the happy ending was just so jarring when paired with such a dark story! I’d still recommend The Wicked Deep though — it’s just so well-written.

  10. I just finished this book yesterday, and I am a fan! I loved every second of it. The atmosphere was done so well, and I loved the way the the sister’s past was woven via short vignettes into the story. And the way I kept being surprised was awesome. Loved it!

    1. Me too, I really loved this one. Ernshaw kept me guessing even when I figured a few things out, and I genuinely didn’t know how things would turn out in the end. And her writing! To die for.

    • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    • 4 years ago

    What a shame that the ending did not live up to the rest of the story! This one looks intriguing, and I’m more than fascinated by the cover: even before reading your synopsis for the book, I found it spoke of dark mysteries – DEEP dark mysteries… 🙂

    1. I agree, it was a shame! But that said, the darkness and mysteriousness and, er, deepness (LOL) of this one totally worked for me. I recommend it, for sure!

    • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    • 4 years ago

    I love that cover! (Forgot I commented before! Oops?) 😀

    1. HA! I don’t mind a double comment, especially when it’s about such a pretty cover. 😉

  11. I only recently even heard about this book and was the publisher pushing it right before it’s release so I was a little wary. I want to hear about a book because readers are loving it, you know? It did sound really cool, though, so I’ve been waiting and hoping I’d see a few reviews for it. It definitely sounds creepy and interesting and even if the last little bit of the book was a bit much that’s cool because the rest of it sounds perfect.

    1. I know, there was so little PR for this book! It’s too bad honestly, because Shea Ernshaw is a really talented writer and I think there’s a big audience for her work…if only they knew about it, haha. The ending was a let down but aside from that, The Wicked Deep was awesome!

  12. Most of the disappointment I’ve seen about this book is that it’s not as Witchy as it sounds! I’m glad you enjoyed it despite that!
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. It’s true, this one wasn’t nearly as witchy as I was hoping it’d be. But despite its shocking lack of witchiness (lol) I still really liked The Wicked Deep!

    • Siobhan

    • 4 years ago

    Such a great review. I’m reading this right now, and I’m finding it hard to finish the book. I know how it ends (spoiled myself), and I feel the same as you. I called the plot twist early on, but Shea works with it quite well.

    1. Thanks so much, Siobhan! The plot twist was pretty easy to call I think, but it didn’t ruin the story or anything. Plus there were plenty of other twists! Aw dang, sorry to hear that. Hopefully you were able to finish it and still enjoyed the story overall.

  13. This sounds so interesting! I haven’t read a witchy book in a while. I think I saw this recently and was curious but passed on it. Mistake! Is it part of a series, do you know? Great review, Danya!

    Have a lovely day. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    1. Fair warning: this one isn’t *quite* as witchy as I was hoping. But it is still really good! As far as I know it’s a standalone…I’d be pretty shocked to hear there’s a sequel in the works, honestly. I do kind of hope that Ernshaw writes a series next, though!

      Thanks Alyssa, I hope you’re having a good week! 🙂

    • Lynn Williams

    • 4 years ago

    Nice to read this, I’ve had my eye on this and I’ve read some positive reviews. Shame about the ending but the rest of your review still makes me want to pick this up.
    Lynn 😀

    1. I think you’ll enjoy this one, Lynn! The moody vibes and stellar writing definitely make up for the ending, in my mind.

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