*This book was assigned to me for phase 1 of SPFBO 8*
*mild spoilers below*
*TW - attempted rape*
Augustine was not what I expected. With quite, gothic undertones akin to Jane Eyre as the setting, the reader is immediately drawn into the quaintness. I liked it straight away. There is a small town nestled in the English countryside with shops, a mansion with secrets, and locals who are a bit strange. The main character, Rae, is bequeathed a cottage when her adoptive mother passes away. She knows nothing about it, but is desperate for a change in her life, especially to get away from her ex-fiance. Initially, I wasn't sure I was going to like Rae all that much. There are hints that she was physically violent to her ex, and that's the reason she was running away. She is appalled by whatever she did, confused, and lost. But as the story progressed I warmed up to her, as it became apparent that whatever she did, she didn't mean to, and doesn't know the source of this magic she has somehow come into.
Upon moving to the cottage, she immediately begins to hear stories of the forest that borders her cottage, and the mansion that is not too far away - recently renovated, open to the public, and run by an enigmatic woman named Emma who has an obsession over her ex-boyfriend, John. The forest is apparently "haunted" as is the mansion, and there have been a string of disappearances over the years.
The writing was to my style - well edited, crisp, and flowed nicely from exposition, to dialogue, to prose about the setting and culture of the small town. I had a hard time understanding how this was classified as fantasy - it had more of a supernatural bent, what with the hauntings, secrets, mysteries, dark magic with witches, and the general feel of the story. There were splashes of fantasy - and science fiction for that matter - but I would say it is a supernatural/gothic/horror book. However, since there were tiny hints of fantasy, I can see why it was entered into the SPFBO competition, probably to see if it would land with fantasy readers. I happen to like horror/supernatural books - so mostly, I liked this book.
There were a few things that were a bit problematic, but didn't necessarily detract from my overall enjoyment. There are a lot of characters, first of all, that have ulterior motives. Like, literally all of them. Every single character has a twist - some sort of secret - to the point that I was getting annoyed by all the "shocking" revelations. They eventually weren't shocking, because there were so many. It all came together in the end, and the climax was a bit disorienting as I tried to figure out who was who, what they wanted, and why they were making decisions in a seeming haphazard type of way. Poor Rae is the only one in the dark, so the reader is experiencing it as she does. Since it was disorienting for her, it was disorienting for me, and I had a hard time keeping track of it all.
Second, I don't mind attempted rape scenes if it progresses the story line in some way. This one seemed unnecessary. I feel like the goal that was in mind could have been accomplished another way - of course, this is preference, so it might not bother other readers.
Lastly, I lost the gothic feel at the end of the book. It seemed to jump quite startlingly into more of a fantasy/supernatural mash, and since I really liked the setting already, I felt the loss. I feel the transition could have been more seamless - either add those elements in a more obvious way throughout the story, or just lose those elements altogether and keep it as a more haunting/horror novel.
All that to say, I enjoyed this book, especially the writing style and the creepy vibes. Laine has a way with words, especially setting the stage for plots and character development. Fans of more traditional gothic stories who don't mind fantasy thrown in at the end, who like lots of dark twists and secrets, will like this one.