Payback’s A Witch by Lana Harper (Lana Popovic) is a fantasy romance with queer characters and competition galore. Emmy Harlow has avoided Thistle Grove, but it’s time to come home.
Emmy Harlow is a witch but not a very powerful one—in part because she hasn’t been home to the magical town of Thistle Grove in years. Her self-imposed exile has a lot to do with a complicated family history and a desire to forge her own way in the world, and only the very tiniest bit to do with Gareth Blackmoore, heir to the most powerful magical family in town and casual breaker of hearts and destroyer of dreams.
But when a spellcasting tournament that her family serves as arbiters for approaches, it turns out the pull of tradition (or the truly impressive parental guilt trip that comes with it) is strong enough to bring Emmy back. She’s determined to do her familial duty; spend some quality time with her best friend, Linden Thorn; and get back to her real life in Chicago.
On her first night home, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov—an all-around badass adept in the darker magical arts—who is fresh off a bad breakup . . . with Gareth Blackmoore. Talia had let herself be charmed, only to discover that Gareth was also seeing Linden—unbeknownst to either of them. And now she and Linden want revenge. Only one question stands: Is Emmy in?
But most concerning of all: Why can’t she stop thinking about the terrifyingly competent, devastatingly gorgeous, wickedly charming Talia Avramov?
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.
“A fire that felt like madness, like it might never be put out.”
With competition akin to All of Us Villains and many other magical tales, Payback’s a Witch brings a rom-com style to the concept. Lana Harper’s writing is descriptive, sometimes bordering on overly descriptive. Our characters fade in and out, from interesting to prop pieces. However, the main romantic characters were sexy and interesting- and queer, which really holds this book up at times.
“What do you think it means? That running the fuck away is what you do best. “
The pacing of this book is incredibly jarring. The actual action of the Gauntlet competition sits nestled between pages upon pages of overly descriptive things where nothing happens. This made the necessary characters sometimes feel like they were unreal, and the way everyone is described as otherworldly beautiful makes you appreciate our hot main characters even less. The entire thing is meant to be over the top and grandeur. However, the more descriptive we got, the less I even cared about any of it.
The romance started to border on cringey, and the moment of romantic vulnerability we got from Talia made me roll my eyes once we got there. I really wanted to like this book, but it just took too long to get to the interesting parts in between the filler. It was much easier to enjoy once I stopped trying to take it seriously, and I don’t think that’s a good thing at all.
“Because like it or not, you’re a Thistle Grove witch and a Harlow to boot.”
This book could have been much more enjoyable had the pacing been more understandable. Unfortunately, the writing lost itself with the overly grandeur and too much filler. The magic was less than charming, and the characters felt disconnected. This easily could have been a fully enjoyable rom-com or a fully enjoyable fantasy. However, oscillating between the two simply did not work for this particular story.
“This town is in your blood, in a way you might not even understand just yet.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.