Published by Disney-Hyperion on June 13, 2017
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Historical, Occult & Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Sexual Content: Brief reference to sex; Trigger Warning: scenes of cutting, thoughts of suicide
Reviewed by: Rebecca
“It’s dark magic brings him back.”
Tori Burns and her family left D.C. for claustrophobic Chaptico, Maryland, after suddenly inheriting a house under mysterious circumstances. That inheritance puts her at odds with the entire town, especially Jesse Slaughter and his family—it’s their generations-old land the Burns have “stolen.” But none of that seems to matter after Tori witnesses a young man claw his way out of a grave under the gnarled oak in her new backyard.
Nathaniel Bishop may not understand what brought him back, but it’s clear to Tori that he hates the Slaughters for what they did to him centuries ago. Wary yet drawn to him by a shared sense of loss, she gives him shelter. But in the wake of his arrival comes a string of troubling events—including the disappearance of Jesse Slaughter’s cousin—that seem to point back to Nathaniel.
As Tori digs for the truth—and slowly begins to fall for Nathaniel—she uncovers something much darker in the tangled branches of the Slaughter family tree. In order to break the centuries-old curse that binds Nathaniel there and discover the true nature of her inheritance, Tori must unravel the Slaughter family’s oldest and most guarded secrets. But the Slaughters want to keep them buried… at any cost.
From award-winning author Elle Cosimano comes a haunting, atmospheric thriller perfect to hand to readers of the Mara Dyer trilogy and Bone Gap.
THE SUFFERING TREE has themes teens will identify with but the plot holes and writing style overwhelm and distract from the overall novel. Tori Burns and her family move to Chaptico when they are bequeathed a house and plot of land. After her father’s death, Tori is depressed and angry. She’s a cutter who already feels like she doesn’t fit in and living in the close-knit town just isolates her further. When her blood accidentally raises Nathaniel Bishop, a murdered indentured servant, Tori learns more about the dark history of the town. Both Tori’s and Nathaniel’s past become integral to ending a curse and solving why the Burns family were given the house at all.
There were a lot of odd writing choices in THE SUFFERING TREE. Chapters are broken into two different POV styles (3rd person/omni for Tori, 1st person for Nathaniel). Tori’s dream scenes are written in 1st person present tense. Each writing switch becomes more clunky and distracting. Everytime we think we’re settled into Tori’s head, there’s a one-line mention of another character knowing something or seeing something about Tori. Exposition also gets in the way of Tori’s chapters. Near the end of the book, Tori distractingly turns into Hercule Poirot and starts rattling off long theories.
There are some problematic elements that I wished had been addressed. With the history of slave ownership and indentured white servants, why is a servant's rape the sole thing that shames the Slaughter family? Why is that worse than anything else that likely happened on the plantation? There should be a known dark history to the Slaughter's and the town, as well as an already twisted family tree. As well, the witchcraft and magic that Emmeline performs has clear roots in voodoo but it’s never explains how Emmeline knows this magic.
This is one of the few books that I wish that there had been a love triangle or that the romance element was removed completely. I never invested in Tori and Nathaniel’s romance, especially since Nathaniel’s chapters were filled with longing for Emmeline. Jesse Slaughter started off as a charismatic teen who was kind, popular, and just had his family’s life ripped apart by this new family. Then, he goes full 80s villain. It felt like a lot of the character reversal was to buck the ‘love triangle’ conventions. Instead it just leeched away any interesting tension and complex characterisation. What would it mean if not all the Slaughters were batshit crazy and out to get Tori?
A forced romance and confusing characters ultimately detract from what could have been an interesting historical fantasy. If THE SUFFERING TREE focused more on Emmeline, and if the Slaughter family hadn’t been such obvious villains, there could have been a lot of interesting questions that addressed the impact of personal history, the importance of blood relations, and whether the past is still something that must be atoned. Tori and Nathaniel’s story may continue into another novel, but it’s one I don’t think I’ll be reading.Series Titles:
For more stories about small towns and long histories, check out Harrow County, Vol. 1: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn (graphic novel), Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh, or Blood and Salt (Blood and Salt #1) by by Kim Liggett