Book Review: The Garden of Bewitchment by Catherine Cavendish

Title: The Garden of Bewitchment

Author: Catherine Cavendish

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

Publication Date: February 20, 2020

Genres: Horror

Shelves: Female-author, female-fronted

When you sit down with a Catherine Cavendish story, you are guaranteed three things - a haunting atmosphere, a wild imagination, and fascinating characters. Each book is a fanciful, dreamlike, nightmarish read, and one that more often than not leaves you questioning your sanity.

The Garden of Bewitchment is very much a period piece, a work of supernatural Gothic horror that owes as much to Poe, Dickens, Wilde, and Le Fanu as it does to the Brontë sisters. Much to Cavendish's credit, it feels like a much older book than it is, which may be something to admire or be concerned about, depending on your taste in literature. I'll be perfectly honest, I was uncomfortable with the first fifty of so pages, not sure I could stand an entire novel about the bickering spinster sisters, but once the horror began emerging from the fog of the moors, I was hooked. It took me the better part of a week to get to the hundred-page mark . . . and but a single evening/night to read from there through to the end.

The cursed old child's board game is a fantastic invention, having shades of Jumanji to it, but it is far more sinister. It hardly seems like much at first, bu as the story continues and it begins to loom larger over the story, the amount of detail invested in its secrets becomes exceptional. The ghost story aspect of the book is intriguing as well, ranging from a phantom lover who leaves the lingering smell of cigars to an invisible poltergeist that hurls heavy brass beds around like they're made of cardboard. Add to that the mysteries of an old house, the barren darkness of the moors, the legends of a small village, and the secret burying of trinkets in the peat, and the story becomes very unsettling.

There is a significant point at which the story twists and turns, and while I anticipated part of that (more as an idle wondering than a real expectation), it is how Cavendish follows it up, and how she transforms the story, that makes it so compelling. The last hundred or so pages are intense, with the story growing deeper and darker with each page turn, successfully transforming questions of ghosts, curses, madness, and cruelty into something more than the sum of its parts.

There are so many fantastic moments here, scenes that get your heart racing, or that leave you feeling clammy with claustrophobia, that I could write pages upon pages about them. The first seeming confirmation of terrors in the bedroom, the toy that won't burn, the garden that should not be there, the cardboard figures, the oddity of the dress shop . . . I could go on, but you really need to experience them in situ in order to appreciate them.

More than any other genre, I find horror often struggles to achieve a climax worthy of the emotions we've invested in the story, but that is where The Garden of Bewitchment truly excels. Once that mysterious box is opened, and the web of secrets and lies begins to unravel, there was no way I could stop reading, and once the true horrors are revealed from the darkness . . . well, all you can do is close the book, close your eyes, and say 'Bravo.'

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


  1. This sounds like my kind of book. I'm not familiar with this author, so thanks for putting her on my radar!

  2. This sounds kind of cool - even for me, and I'm not a fan of horrors!


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