Today, I'm pleased to share the news that The Burning of Isobel Key, by Jen McConnel, has been released!
When Lou travels to Scotland, she’s a mess. She’s twenty-six, unemployed, and unsure of herself. It doesn’t help that she’s traveling with Tammy, her best friend, who is everything Lou is not.
At first, the trip pushes Lou towards the brink of depression, but then she meets Brian, a handsome local tour guide. When Brian tells the tourists about the countless witches burned in Scotland, Lou starts to listen. And when she discovers information about Isobel Key, one of the victims of the seventeenth century, Lou finds renewed purpose.
She sets out to learn the truth of the condemned witch, but she isn’t prepared for the knowledge that waits for her. Lou must face her demons if she has any hope of righting the wrongs of the past.
Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. Since then, her words have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals, including Sagewoman, PanGaia, and The Storyteller (where she won the people’s choice 3rd place award for her poem, “Luna”).
She is also an active reviewer for Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and proud member of SCBWI, NCWN, and SCWW.
The Burning of Isobel Key is her first novel. She also writes YA fantasy.
Barnes & Noble
She was standing on a spot near the sea in a place that looked like St. Andrews. Lou recognized the Old Course over to her left, and realized that she was somewhere near the modern edge of the town. In her dream, however, she realized that she was somewhere much more rural: other than the Old Course and the road running alongside it, there were no man-made structures. No lights winked out at her from the darkness, and everything was shrouded in a strange mist.
Lou heard a noise coming from the direction of town. She froze, knowing that she would not be seen in a dream, yet she was unaccountably afraid of the sounds coming her way.
The sounds grew more distinct, and Lou saw the source of the noise. A mass of people was surging up the road, headed in her direction. They carried lit torches and shouted and jostled each other. Towards the center of the group, the men and women were carrying something. It wasn’t until they dropped part of their burden that Lou could make out the shape of human bones.
The bones were charred, as if they had sat for hours in the fire. She thought she knew who they belonged to, and her suspicions were confirmed when a man called out “The witch’s soul is back with her master!” His words were answered with a cheer, and Lou watched, nauseous, as some of the boys in the group each picked up a bone and began to batter each other as if they were playing with wooden swords. A dog ran by their game and scooped a bony hand into its mouth.
The skull slipped to the ground, and instead of bending to retrieve it, the woman who carried it began to kick it in front of her like a soccer ball. Lou wanted to cover her eyes, to scream, to cry at them to stop, but she was frozen in the dream, unable to look away, unable to stop listening.
The mob passed without noticing her, but one of the mangy dogs trotting along at the edge of the crowd stopped directly in front of her and howled once, low and menacing, before continuing along its way. Still unable to move her body, Lou watched as the crowd passed her. They stopped some hundred yards away, and Lou watched the flurry of shovels, digging into the earth. Squinting in the dark, Lou was just able to make out a thin dirt path, crossing the main road from St. Andrews, at the spot where the mob had stopped. “The crossroads!” With that frenzied thought, she was spinning out of the dream, pulled into absolute darkness.
She shot up in bed, wild eyed, and looked across the room at Tammy, also wide awake and staring.
Tammy began to stutter, her face white with terror. “I had an awful dream, Lou. Awful! There were people, and bones, so many bones, and they were treating the bones like toys! They even let the dog gnaw on a hand!” She shuddered. “It was so awful, I couldn’t stand it.”
Lou crossed the room to her best friend. “I know. I think I dreamed the same thing. Did you see where they buried the bones?”
Tammy shook her head, frantically. “No, I didn’t see them bury anything. I just saw them being awful!” Lou squeezed her shoulders, trying to reassure her.
“I saw them. I saw them too,” she murmured, soothingly. “But I saw more. I know where they buried Isobel’s bones!”
The Burning of Isobel Key, the debut novel by Jen McConnel, is a well-crafted piece of fiction. It bounces between the present and the distant past, telling the stories of two women—both of whom are searching for purpose, understanding, and love.
Lou is a directionless, somewhat unmotivated, bookstore clerk who embarks on a trip to Scotland—a holiday/vacation/soul-searching sojourn—immediately after quitting her job. Of course, little does she know how much that trip will change the course of her life. She has a strained relationship with her mother (who readers dislike the moment she opens her mouth), a lackluster relationship with her father, and a best friend who’s a bit of a …
Isobel is an innocent, open woman who’s both too progressive, and too trusting, for her own good. Before long, we learn that the accusations of witchcraft that are her eventual undoing are but the latest in a long line of betrayals and heartbreaks in her tragic story. She has loving parents, a loving sister, and a beau who’s quite a …
I found Isobel’s story to be far more compelling than Lou’s—which is, by no means, a knock against the latter; it’s simply a matter of preference. The treatment of so-called witches is one of the darkest, yet most intriguing, periods of our history, and McConnel shares enough about it to support and enrich the story without becoming preachy or sanctimonious.
Overall, the story is artfully done. I’d highly recommend the The Burning of Isobel Key to YA, NA, paranormal and even light fantasy fans.
Be sure to check out The Burning of Isobel Key and let me (and Jen) know what you think!