Author: Lea Nolan
Series: Hoodoo Apprentice #1
Genre: Paranormal YA, Contemporary YA, Magic
Release date: October 23, 2012
Summary: Emma Guthrie expects this summer to be like any other in the South Carolina Lowcountry–hot and steamy with plenty of beach time alongside her best friend and secret crush, Cooper Beaumont, and Emma’s ever-present twin brother, Jack. But then a mysterious eighteenth-century message in a bottle surfaces, revealing a hidden pirate bounty. Lured by the adventure, the trio discovers the treasure and unwittingly unleashes an ancient Gullah curse that attacks Jack with the wicked flesh-eating Creep and promises to steal Cooper’s soul on his approaching sixteenth birthday.
When a strange girl appears, bent on revenge; demon dogs become a threat; and Jack turns into a walking skeleton; Emma has no choice but to learn hoodoo magic to undo the hex, all before summer—and her friends–are lost forever.
CONJURE by Lea Nolan is one of those books that gave me mixed feelings, guys. One the one hand, HOODOO. I love reading about elemental magic because it seems so much more real than, say, Harry Potter magic (even though Harry Potter magic is THE BEST EVER). Something about magic like hoodoo seems creepier to me because it seems more likely to be possible in our world, and that is awesome, so big props for debut hoodoo! On the other hand, though, I thought the characters and the character development in CONJURE could have used a little more work. I didn’t really feel any connections to any of them, and some of the plot points felt like a bunch of sharp turns that came out of nowhere, as opposed to slower, steeper curves. WHOA I don’t even know if that makes sense. Don’t worry. I’ll explain myself.
So the good stuff: Like I said, the hoodoo was pretty interesting. Emma, her brother Jack, and her friend/crush, Cooper are dealing with some pretty fascinating, albeit horrible, hoodoo. The curse Jack is suffering from was intriguing and the Creep (a flesh-wasting part of the curse) was GROSS, and therefore great. I definitely felt the jeopardy the kids were facing to save Emma’s brother. (He, though, was a tool.)
When Emma enlists the help of Miss Delia, resident hoodoo practitioner, to help them break the curse and save Jack from succumbing to the Creep, I thought things were at their best. Miss Delia was spunky and super, and I liked her as a mentor. So, generally speaking, I thought the hoodoo aspects of CONJURE were fun and interesting. The weakest aspect was probably Maggie, the mysterious young girl who has this weird hold over Jack. She was pretty weird and her identity was a little bit predictable. It’s obvious that there’s lots more to this curse, though, and it’s promising.
All of those things considered, I wasn’t blown away by the characters. CONJURE had one of those stories where things basically start happening right away with not so much explanation and it’s a little jarring. And it doesn’t really change as things progress, either. This brought about two things for me: One, I always felt like things were happening without much transition, kind of just hopping around from one event to another. Little bit whiplash-y. And two, I felt like we didn’t have much of a chance to get to know the characters very well at the beginning, so even as the story moves on, I didn’t really have a good feel for them, and I didn’t think that they grew or changed very much, especially the guys. Jack is basically irritating the whole time. Granted, he’s slowly melting away from a hoodoo curse and is under some pretty heavy magical influence, but still. Not so redeeming. (And can I just state right now for the record how much I dislike parents who don’t notice HORRIBLY OBVIOUS things? I don’t like that plot device. Jack’s skin is falling off because of the curse. By the end of the book, nearly all the flesh on his WHOLE ARM has DISAPPEARED. Dad? No clue at all. I just don’t buy it.) I wish the characters were more engaging.
Lea Nolan does give us a little romance in CONJURE, but it’s pretty tame. Cute, but tame. Not too many feels, but Emma and Cooper are younger than I realized going in (Emma is only 14 and Cooper is on the verge of turning 16), so I can get behind it. I think I would have had more of a reaction to it if I felt more invested in the characters. Alas.
I do hope you give CONJURE a go, though, friends. It certainly had enjoyable qualities, and there’s definitely things left unresolved that are promising (obviously, because it’s a series). The atmosphere and setting were great, and I really enjoyed getting little glimpses of the Gullah culture, which is something I have sadly never encountered before in YA. There are some historical flashbacks that gave me creeps, too, and I’m hoping for some more of that as well. Not a perfect debut, but I’d give Lea Nolan‘s work another shot for sure.