Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Pages: 340

Series: The Witches of Thistle Grove, Book 1

Genres: Romance; Fantasy; LGBTQ+; Witches; Paranormal; Adult Fiction

Publication Date: October 5, 2021

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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?

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Delilah’s borderline obsession with our family history had always struck me as kind of hilarious, given the role the Harlows had actually played in the founding of the town. Legend had it that a little over three hundred years ago, four witches were drawn to Hallows Hill, lured by the siren song of magical power that emanated from this place. To consecrate the founding of the town below, Celia Blackmoore conjured a spectacular lightening storm, Margarita Avramov summoned spirits from beyond the veil to serve as witnesses, Alastair Thorn called down the birds form the sky as his congregation, and Elias Harlow drew forth his might quill and…

Took a bunch of notes.

Chapter One, Page Ten

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Shortly after I picked up this story, I picked up another witchy read. While that could have been disastrous for my enjoyment of this story, it actually ended up being the opposite. In stark comparison to New Moon Rising by Brandy Nacole, Payback’s a Witch made me want to settle into the read. (Review of New Moon Rising coming soon.)

This story gave me everything I could have asked it for. It has a diverse cast, an intriguing premise, an unconventional romance, and a plotline with twists and turns. Sure those twists and turns might have been predictable, but it’s the execution that gets me.

One of the comparisons to this story I read and absolutely adored is how this book gives off the same kind of vibes as Halloweentown. I grew up on those movies and will still happily watch them every Halloween. Finding a read with the same kind of vibe was like drifting into a favourite world again. Just… slightly different.

It’s got the same magical safe haven vibes, the same wonder and mystery when it comes to the magic of the world. It’s a hidden magical town, but instead of being in an alternate dimension it’s hidden in plain sight.

I really liked the way the town of Thistle Grove is introduced to the reader throughout this story. While we first get a sense of this town as one that’s teeming with magic in the air if you know what to look for, there’s so much more to it than that. Each of the founding families bring something different to the town, a different aspect of magic and intrigue to the world.

If you’re looking for a cozy romance in a witchy small town, you might want to try picking this read up. If you’re not into revenge plots or magical tournaments (I’ve seen a comparison between this story and the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter be made), then you might not enjoy this story.

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*Spoilers ahead*

I love Talia and Emmy together. I love that it was real right from the beginning, that it wasn’t just them messing around for the hell of it like Emmy tried to convince herself at the beginning. I love that they helped each other become more confident in themselves, to understand their own powers. I love that they make each other stronger, push each other to do their absolute best.

And that’s not even touching on how much I love the fact that Emmy used her “weak” magical powers to help Talia win the tournament… only for Talia to turn around and give up the title of “magical mayor” to Emmy.

From the beginning I expected Emmy to come out of things as the victor. After the introduction beat me over the head with how weak Emmy’s powers are and how the Harlows never join the competition, I knew something was going to happen. I didn’t expect things to play out the way they did, and I’m thrilled with the way Harper dealt with the twist, but this outcome is pretty predictable.

One thing I wasn’t sure if it would happen or not was Delilah taking over as arbiter from Emmy. I’m glad this plot point ended up happening and that it brought the cousins closer together. The fact that Delilah got her biggest wish (even if Emmy still managed to upstage her) makes me smile.

On the flipside, I’m ecstatic that Gareth doesn’t end up getting his wish of winning the tournament. Out of all the characters in this story, I found Gareth to be the most one dimensional. He’s a douche with incredible powers. He’s a serial cheater who doesn’t understand that his actions have consequences. But that’s really all he is.

While I expect that Gareth is going to get some sort of a redemption arc as this series goes on, I’m not sure I want him to get one at this point. As things stands, I’m not sure he deserves one. We’ll see if the rest of the series is going to be able to change my mind on this.

Leaving this story, I’m certain that I look forward to continuing on with this world. Whenever From Bad to Cursed comes out, I’m going to devour it. Rowan and Issa’s past was teased about in Payback’s a Witch and I can’t wait to see it come to light.

There’s so much more I could talk about in this review – like the secret to the Harlows’ power and how badass the Dread Lady truly is – but it’s getting late as I type this up. So instead I’ll leave you with a question:

If you could excel in any magical discipline, what discipline would you choose?

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