The Craft for the #MeToo era, this debut unfolds a riveting psychological drama shot through with sharp humor and dark magic for readers of Ninth House and The Power.
When Lee, a first year at Smith, is raped under eerie circumstances during orientation week by an Amherst frat boy, she's quickly disillusioned by her lack of recourse. As her trauma boils within her, Lee is selected for an exclusive seminar on Gender, Power, and Witchcraft, where she meets Luna (an alluring Brooklyn hipster), Gabi (who has a laundry list of phobias), and Charlotte (a waifish, chill international student). Granted a charter for a coven and suddenly in possession of real magic, the four girls are tasked by their aloof Professor with covertly retrieving a grimoire that an Amherst fraternity has gotten their hands on. But when the witches realize the frat brothers are using magic to commit and cover up sexual assault all over Northampton, their exploits escalate into vigilante justice. As Lee's thirst for revenge on her rapist grows, things spiral out of control, pitting witch against witch as they must wrestle with how far one is willing to go to heal.
Consensual Hex is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of a young woman coming of age, uncovering the ways in which love and obsession and looking to fit in can go hand in hand. Lee, an outstanding, magical anti-heroine, refuses to be pigeonholed as a model victim or a horrific example. Instead, her caustic voice demands our attention, clawing out from every page, equally vicious and vulnerable as she lures us, then dares us, to transgress. Dark, biting, and archly camp, Consensual Hex announces Harlowe as a significant talent.
Harlowe's debut offers a sinister if diffuse take on campus date rape. Leisl is ambivalent about a lot of things her sexuality, her career aspirations, even her desire to attend college in the first place as she arrives at Smith College for her first year. She attends a meeting of Smithies Against Sexual Violence, where she meets Tripp, a self-described male ally from Amherst who proceeds to invite her on a date, get her drunk, and take advantage of her in a public restroom. Confused, lonely, and initially unwilling to report the assault as she comes to realize she was raped, Leisl joins the Gender, Power, and Witchcraft seminar, which turns out to be a front for the practice of witchcraft itself. Tripp, meanwhile, is not only a serial rapist but also a warlock, along with his frat buddies. A revenge plot and a love triangle play out in tandem among Leisl and the other members of her seminar's coven, and as their freshman year devolves into an increasingly surreal and gory fever dream, readers are left to discern what of Leisl's story is real, what is imagined, and what is a metaphor for sexual violence and its aftermath. Given the recent glut of novels that cast witchcraft as a potent representation of women's power and rage, this one feels underpowered. Lucy Cleland, Kneerim & Williams.