“When Clementine was a child, dangerous and inexplicable things started happening in New South Bend. The townsfolk blamed the fiendish people out in the Willows and burned their homes to the ground. But magic kept Clementine alive, walled up in the cellar for ten years, until a boy named Fisher sets her free. Back in the world, Clementine sets out to discover what happened all those years ago. But the truth gets muddled in her dangerous attraction to Fisher, the politics of New South Bend, and the Hollow, a fickle and terrifying place that seems increasingly temperamental ever since Clementine reemerged.” – Amazon’s description
I actually started reading this book with the assumption it was set in Louisiana, and I’m not sure why I thought that. To my memory, it isn’t ever stated clearly where exactly New South Bend is, but there was a moment where someone claimed Clementine had “come up to visit from Louisiana” so I knew my assumption was wrong, but I was lucky enough to get in touch with Brenna Yovanoff! She told me that, in her mind, Fiendish takes place in northern Arkansas in the ozarks where she lived when she was little. So, I’m counting this as the Arkansas book – even if it isn’t clearly stated in the story – because I loved it so much and wanted to include it in my list.
Brenna Yovanoff is another author who knows how to write about a small southern town and make it believable, like an actual town you would find and not some exaggerated, stereotypical vision of one. I can also say the same about the old magic of the town. Being from Louisiana myself, I equated it to Voodoo, but I think it probably pulls from several different types of old magic. The way Yovanoff incorporates it into the story, it’s viewed as mundane or like a secret that shouldn’t be talked about depending on the tone of the writing at the time – even though the story centers around it. Basically, it’s not dramatic, over the top, or in your face very much. It’s just a fact of life.
The small goings on of town-life and the inherent ostracizing of anything “different” or “outside of” those normal happenings are very real and relatable to any small town. The stretch of woods known as “the Hollow” are captivating in their magical and nearly demonic qualities – depending on how you look at it. Because really, who hasn’t been in a heavily wooded area and not felt the magic of nature but also a fear of not knowing what’s around you and having no real control over your surroundings.
Clementine was locked away because of a strange storm-like event that occurred in the town which scared the people into attacking the “old families” that practiced magic. When Clementine was put away, the event stopped and the people left the families alone. Until ten years pass and Clementine returns. Then, strange things begin to happen again. Clementine tries to figure out if it is truly her fault, if the blame might lie somewhere else, or if it lies in multiple people. Every strange event that occurs brings her closer to the truth, which builds to a dramatic climax where Clementine needs to decide whether her desire to heal people and see the good in everyone is really the correct way of thinking or if it can lead to irreversible destruction.
This is more than a story about a magic girl. It is a story about finding power in your own beliefs instead of being a follower, trusting your own judgements and instincts, and not being afraid to adjust them if need be. Calamities often test beliefs and show you whether they can truly hold up under severe strain. If they don’t, you can always find ways to fortify them, and that can often mean asking for help and banding together with those around you. Ostracizing and casting out those around you who you believe is lesser than you or just “abnormal” can only do damage in the long run. You need to accept those who you don’t understand because you just may learn from them and strengthen yourself because of it.