The Lantern’s Ember has more tricks than treats


A great hodgepodge of spooky lore doesn’t quite save The Lantern’s Ember from falling into some weird traps, unfortunately.

Primed to hit the start of fall, as noted by Delacorte Press in the accompanying press release, The Lantern’s Ember mixes up so many different horror tropes that it almost feels like a young adult’s version of American Horror Story — just lacking most of the scares. Additionally, though AHS has a tendency to go off the rails, The Lantern’s Ember keeps things somewhat more plotted, but at the expense of making a book that’s ultimately a little unsatisfying in its character work and style.

The Lantern’s Ember, at its heart, is about Ember O’Dare, a witch being kept hidden from the Otherworld by the valiant efforts of Jack, a lantern tasked with keeping the two worlds separate. Unfortunately, Ember has a mind of her own and crosses over, despite the fact that her being a witch is dangerous.

There are some good things to be found here. The idea of the Otherworld itself isn’t new, nor are most of the creatures Houck presents, but they’re clever enough — and with definite shades of magical technology — to be particularly engaging. From Frankenstein to Roanoke to a little bit of The Island of Dr. Moreau, some of the fun for a reader will come from picking out the references.

As you can probably suspect — and as the jacket flap notes — Ember and Jack are the main pairing of the book, but there is a lot of real estate given over to a love quadrangle of sorts, with vampire Dev and human Finney also very much into the idea of being Ember’s paramour. Indeed, author Colleen Houck spends a lot of time having each character ruminate on why they like Ember so much, what they’d do if they were her chosen gentleman, and so on and so forth. On one level, it’s great that Houck has the losers gracefully bow out. When things are spoiled from the very beginning, though, it’s difficult to see how this provides much in the way of narrative tension.

Besides that, there’s a lot of hasty perspective switching, sometimes within the same page. Since so many characters get the spotlight, it’s hard to really get to know any one of them particularly well, even Ember, who’s ostensibly the lead character; the switches back and forth also make it difficult for there to be a consistent reading experience.

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Ultimately, The Lantern’s Ember suffers from being bogged down by too many characters that all have screen time, and it’s a tough time for horror, fantasy, and sci fi to break through thanks to the ridiculous September calendar. Even if you’re a fan of Houck’s previous works, this one can maybe fall onto your to-read list for some later date.