Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne

cover of LuteLute by Jennifer Thorne 
Tor Nightfire (October 2022) 
288 pages; $24.99 hardcover; $13.99 ebook 
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

This is all one big horrifying party and I’m the hostess.

In Jennifer Thorne’s Lute readers follow Nina, a mother of two, and via marriage the “Lady of Lute.” With a war-torn backdrop, ritualistic nature, and an unseen ruler of the island, Nina struggles to understand the annual custom referred to as “The Day.”

The Day dates back thousand of years. At the heart of it is the tithe stone, where barbaric rituals took place. Where the “sacrificial rock” descended time and again, smashing through hair, skull, and brain matter. 2,000 years before Druid predicts oversaw the sacrifices of The Day and it was an honor to give up your life.

Over the years, the means of the day became more humane. But the island held its haunted shade and saw tragedy after tragedy. The island takes who it deems fit, children, mothers, fathers, and the people of Lute submit to it. Provide offerings.

Nina soon learns that accepting the people of Lute, becoming one of them is a condition of her and her children’s survival. As Nina steps into the role of Lady Treadway on The Day, she witness a number of accidents and supernaturally cruel slaughters. In every wobble, trip, or move, Nina feels the covenant’s presence, like a snake ready to strike.

I do wish Thorne would’ve held readers in the chaos of the final thirty minutes of The Day. This part really puts readers’ nerves on needle-thin tripwire. But the reveal, an uncovered emissary of death, was earth-shattering, and emblematic of a woman’s ferocity and the will to live.

Lute is a masterful merriment of folk horror and murder mystery. Thorne captures the shock and terror of horror fan-favorites like The Wicker Man and Midsommar. But the ending, the bizarre shift The Day transpires in Lord Treadway (Hugh), felt like an ode to classic mystery novels like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Lute is a shining thread that links readers to the imaginative mind of Thorne, reminiscent of Ari Aster, the tonic of an unputdownable mystery, and folk horror in the same vein as Adam Nevill’s writing.

Thorne conjured a read that feels like watching the world explode in beautiful obliteration. It’s a haunting and simultaneously hopeful reminder that we live in defiance of death each day, and on the island of Lute, the siren of The Day, of “The Shining One’s,” will always call.

I’ll eagerly await whatever Jennifer Thorne has to offer us hungry readers next.

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