Annie Mason's parents separated when she was young, and her father has remained a distant, virtually unknown figure in her life, but when he dies she inherits his belongings and house on mysterious Crow Island. It's a place with a reputation, for Crow Island is the last refuge of magic in a world from which it's been banned., but Annie despite her misgivings needs to go there to sort her father's property, and there's an added incentive in that it was also the last address Annie had for her long-lost friend Bea.
Annie is a 'nice girl'; her mother's brought her up to be good, to never question, let alone break, the law forbidding magic, and to only envisage a future of husband and family, but from the moment she arrives on Crow Island Annie is tempted. From the tourist shops selling harmless herb-scented teas, the crows gathering ominously on roofs and fences, to the wild kazam-fueled parties held at the Delacroix house there's a scent of magic in the air. But it's the enigmatic neighbour Emmeline Delacroix, with her dark, mysterious past and gender-bender style that Annie finds most bewitching; despite the warning from her father's friend/solicitor, and even after she uncovers the dark bond forged by Emmeline and Bea, Annie can't help being attracted.
I'm going to make it clear upfront that I know the author - in happier pre-Covid times she helped run the local Waterstones book group I attended - and I heard long ago of her pet fantasy novel - a witchy, gay take on The Great Gatsby, that to be honest I thought sounded a bit weird. But I applied for and received a Netgalley copy, started to read - and loved it!
It's not remotely a formulaic lesbian re-telling of Fitzgerald's story but a fantastic read in its own right - dark, wicked and so entrancing. Gatsby dazzled his neighbours with money and alcohol, and no one queried their sources; Emmeline does the same with magic, from the small innocuous potions to perhaps attract a lover, to dark dangerous spells that are bargains sealed with blood and demanding blood (very literally) in payment,
Much like Gatsby and co, these wild and wicked characters are morally ambivalent at best; messed up by their personal backstories, and with no sense of right and wrong beyond how it fits their needs. No one is out and out 'bad', and not even Annie could claim to be 'snow white'. To my mind, it makes them more interesting and realistic, but in a fantasy novel they may not be to everyone's taste.
A gentle warning - Wild and Wicked Things may start slowly and quietly but builds through unsettling moments to horror and bloody violence. So, be warned, it's may not be for readers of a tame, easily disturbed disposition.
Last year I included another, more traditional, Gatsby spin off - Nick by Michael Farris Smith - in my picks of the year; this year Wild and Wicked Things will be up there.