Skip to main content

Wild and Wicked Things


Wild and Wicked Things

In WILD AND WICKED THINGS, Francesca May immerses readers in a tale of post–World War I England, the ruthless undercurrent of magic, and two women thrust together by fate and circumstance.

In this time and place, “prohibition” doesn’t just mean black market liquor, but a world turned against magic as well. In the years leading up to the war, magical herbs and spices were used to inspire love, infuse courage, and ease common aches and pains. But after witnessing the horrors of war (and the even more ghastly horrors of magical enemies), England has turned against magic. Now the natural herbs and spices used to manage migraines or women’s monthly pains have been outlawed, and the women who previously used these magical elements in their apothecaries, bakeries and midwifing businesses have been branded as witches. Luckily, Annie Mason has no interest in any of this witchcraft business. She has just lost her estranged father and is bound for Crow Island --- the last-known locale for real, earthy magic --- to settle his estate and secure her inheritance.

"WILD AND WICKED THINGS is everything that THE GREAT GATSBY could have been: magical, illicit and penetrative."

When Annie arrives there, she immediately sees the eponymous, eerie crows --- mythologized to be the ghosts of real witches --- but settles quietly into a remote cabin while she waits for her meeting with her father’s lawyer. However, during her first night there, she learns that her “remote” cabin is next door to the most extravagant mansion on the island: the home of Emmeline Delacroix, Crow Island’s most mysterious and most public witch. Emmeline and her housemates host glittering, luxurious parties every weekend, and all of the island’s wealthiest citizens are always in attendance…at least in part to pay for Emmeline’s gifts of fortune-telling, wish-granting and secret-keeping.

In exchange for helping these well-to-do inhabitants flourish, the local police turn a blind but cautious eye to her witchery. Lately, though, Emmeline’s spells have started to backfire, turning more mercurial and darker by the day. But when Annie spots Emmeline across their shared beach, she knows none of this. All she knows is that she feels an innate, desperate and hungry pull toward the enigmatic woman dressed like a man, smoking and drinking witchcraft-infused cocktails under the purple porchlight of her mansion.

As Annie is drawn closer and closer to Emmeline, the “tether” she feels between them strengthens, until even logical, rule-following Annie must admit that something far more mysterious and magical has pulled her to Crow Island than her father’s death. When Annie reunites with her childhood best friend, Bea, now also an unlikely inhabitant of the island, she can no longer ignore that the magic of Crow Island is not only real, but life-changing. As the combined pressures of prohibition, misogyny and spells gone very, very bad mount, Annie, Bea and Emmeline are drawn deeper into an unholy union of witchcraft, secrecy and wickedness.

WILD AND WICKED THINGS is everything that THE GREAT GATSBY could have been: magical, illicit and penetrative. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Annie and Emmeline finally make contact, it picks up at great, terrifying and shockingly sensual speed. While weaving a dazzling tale of mystery and magic, May has simultaneously penned a novel of great romantic depth, a quiet but powerful queer celebration, and a stark reminder of the debt that the wealthy class incurs against their most marginalized peers. She uses the theme of magic as a vessel for queerdom --- acknowledged and hunted, but never celebrated --- in powerful, thought-provoking ways as only the best fantasy can.

But May also crafts a believable, satisfying magic system that thrills as much as it enthralls. WILD AND WICKED THINGS is, at times, a dark and gory novel, but the reminder that all magic (and you can read “magic” as wishes, legislation or even personal choice) takes and gives in equal measure makes this fantasy spellbinding and unrelentingly complex.

It is incredibly difficult for me to say a bad word about a novel so openly queer and magical, but I must admit that Annie and Bea often fell flat for me. Because of the nature of their separate arrivals on Crow Island, we are given very little information about their pasts, which sometimes made it difficult to relate to or root for them. That said, the luscious scenery and deeply imagined magic system of the book made these only minor complaints, and Emmeline and her housemates more than made up for the staleness of their supporting characters. Simply put, this is a ravishing and unforgettable portrayal of witchcraft --- and even more important, the women who practice it --- that is ultimately more than the sum of its parts: a sapphic, gender-queer GREAT GATSBY with an undercurrent of raw, violent magic. What more could you want?

Perfect for readers of Alix E. Harrow's THE ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES and Genevieve Gornichec's THE WITCH’S HEART, WILD AND WICKED THINGS is a promising, seductive debut from an author who is sure to invent even more wild and wondrous worlds for a new generation of fantasy readers who are tired of heteronormative, male-dominated journeys and ready for the enchantment and romance of women-dominated witchery.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on April 1, 2022

Wild and Wicked Things
by Francesca May