My rating: 3/5 stars | Goodreads rating: 3.9/5 stars
Compulsion is the first in Martina Boone’s Heirs of Watson Island series, comprised of three novels: Compulsion, Persuasion, and Illusion. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started the first novel. The cover looks warm and content and a little mysterious, with a photo of two people on a tree-lined dirt road, all tinged in a golden honey color. Most of the reviews I skimmed called the book a “Southern Gothic,” which I hadn’t really heard of–at least not in application to books written in the past few decades–so I was anticipating a slow pace, references to sweet iced tea, and maybe some kind of family drama.
I got the family drama part right, anyway.It turns out that Southern Gothic means a story that includes supernatural elements, roots in history, and twisted characters or events, all of which appear strongly in this series.
Compulsion is the story of Barrie Watson, a newly orphaned teen girl who is moving to the South Carolina mansion where her mother grew up before running away to California. Now under the care of her reclusive aunt Pru, Barrie begins slowly uncovering secrets about her family’s history as one of the three founding families of Watson’s Island, the fictional town in which the story is set. Barrie also begins learning more about the magical gift she has always possessed, which allows her to find things that are lost–a useful but often painful gift in a place where so many things have been forgotten or hidden. With the help of Eight Beaufort (I guess love interests with numbers for names are becoming a trend!) and Cassie Colesworth, who are also direct descendants of the island’s founding families, Barrie finds more and more secrets and answers about her family’s history, her mother’s life, and herself. Add in a heavy dose of Southern mysticism, voodoo-ish magic, and a few plot twists, and you’ve got a novel so weird but so intriguing you have to finish it.
I was not expecting this book to be as mystic as it was. When Barrie’s finding gift was displayed in the first chapter (when she finds the wedding ring her cab driver had lost under the back seat), I tried to rationalize it: “Maybe she just has a really sharp eye and hates for things to be out of their proper place?” When Barrie saw the Fire Carrier, some kind of Native American ghost/witch/I-don’t-even-know-and-neither-does-she, I tried to rationalize it” Maybe she’s just dreaming?” By the the time she literally found the skeletons–and the ghosts–in the closet, I had finally accepted that the magic in Watson’s Island was real and that Barrie was deeply entrenched in it, in more ways than either she or readers understand…which of course leads those readers to the next books (reviews coming soon to a blog near you!).
I did enjoy Compulsion, primarily because it was easy to read (even if the voodoo magic stuff was a little, well, gothic) and because I loved the setting. Boone did a marvelous job making the little Southern town of Watson’s Island feel real and homey and deliciously mysterious. The story wouldn’t have been nearly the same if it had been set anywhere else. I also appreciated the surprising plot twists, though there were instances when Barrie would come to a conclusion using the same facts that left me puzzled. I do feel that some of the characters’ logic does not always make sense, but as this book seems crafted more as a pleasurable read than a mystery, I am willing to overlook my own confusion.
I will have to keep an eye out for more Southern gothic novels; perhaps there are more than I had realized. My search will of course include both Persuasion and Illusion, the second and third books in this series!
Please comment your thoughts and ideas down below. I’d love to hear from you! (I know I’m not the only YA-fanatic out there!)