River Woman, River Demon : A Novel by Jennifer Givhan

Nothing comes we haven’t conjured or called, one way or another.

I have been trying to have a more varied diet of fiction therefore I was fast to dig into this novel based on culture and folk magick (yes, the k is intentional). It seems I keep picking up stories that are about witches and water lately, maybe because it’s October. Often, these tales are about women who must find strength, particularly reaching back into traumatic pasts. For Eva, water turned toxic when her best friend Karma drowned, haunting her forever in the swamps of her memory. Her mind isn’t reliable, and just when she gets to the part of what happened to drag her friend to the bottom, the past won’t speak. Back then people believed she did it, she drowned Karma. Eighteen years have passed and “a thousand miles between Los Lunas and Calexico”, her days now are spent in a Magickal household of South Valley, New Mexico as a stay-at-home artist practicing Hoodoo with her husband Jericho (UNM professor of African American Studies) and their young children. It’s not fairytale nonsense, their deeply rooted practices, it is necessary for survival for people of color, but it can turn dark, mean. Jericho is a professor of roots and bones, of Hoodoo and mojo and herbs, he owns a successful shop and runs a Magickal showcase. Eva’s mother was a bruja (witch) who died when she was only eight. Left to be raised by her older sister, Eva was brought up among church folk, feeling robbed of her ancestry until she had her mother’s book of shadows in her hands, but it was meeting Jericho Moon that brought her birthright and Chicano perspective into focus. Her artistry was fruitful enough once, allowing her to purchase a ranch but things have gone off and death is rearing its ugly head again. She is no longer creating as before.

When she discovers her husband one night howling in the river, there is a dead woman in his arms, their friend Cec (godmother to their children). Claiming to have found her that way, there is no way to make sense of the horror and it isn’t long before Jericho is arrested and charged with her murder. It’s not going to look good, this defense of it being an accident, she knows how the authorities will judge their lives, their spiritual practices only make them look more guilty, but it is her own past that will fall under intense scrutiny. Does she even believe in her own innocence? Is there a spell that will right the wrongs, protect her family? A ritual that would prove Jericho’s telling the truth, does she believe him? Jericho is the one who always makes things right, he has been the pillar of their family, now it’s fallen on Eva’s shoulders. How can she defend him when she isn’t sure herself if he is guilty or not?

Eva suffers from blackouts, are they caused by the trauma she suffered losing Karma or is something more nefarious happening? How reliable is Eva? As she meets with the detective, she wonders if Cec and Jericho could have been lovers, and it awakens the beast of jealousy within her soul. Cec’s death is a mirror of Karma’s, it illuminates the past that Eva can’t get straight in her clouded mind. Her children (she calls them the X’s) have more faith in their father than she does, but they are having a hard time struggling without Jericho and her son Xavier is suffering through emotional distress, refusing to speak. Strange things start happening, Eva thinks they are being haunted. Living ghosts walk back into her life, she doesn’t know who to trust. She feels betrayed, conflicted, lost, and is drifting away from her life, from her marriage, from the truth.

The past and present are about to collide, darkness is falling, has she conjured this?

She’s a mess and is looking for strength, but does she have the clarity, does she trust her intuition enough? Eva’s making more mistakes, with her husband gone there is no one to guide her, but will she trust her gut? It is all so murky as the things from her past, the secrets she kept even from herself, climb out of the woodwork. Can she save her family if she doesn’t know the person or thing that is after them? What if she is the one calling the destruction upon them all? A solid psychological thriller with rich cultural history.

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Blackstone Publishing

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