Harrow County by Author Cullen Bunn
This post contains spoilers for Harrow County Vol 1-8
Harrow County is a small southern farming community that has a troubled past. 18 years ago they triple killed a witch named Hester by shooting her, hanging her, and then burning her. They thought they had rid the town of this evil but now a young 18 year old girl is showing signs that she may be the reincarnation of Hester’s spirit. Emmy is our heroine and she knew nothing about any kind of witch curse until the townsfolk started whispering behind her back. She goes off to investigate her suspicions in the woods and finds her sidekick, the skin of a young boy.
This skin has a talent, he can project what people at a distance are saying. Now Emmy hears the town’s whispers and finds out they think she could be this witch. She knows deep down in her heart that she is no ancient evil but she can also recognize she has powers.
So she does what any good hearted girl would do and starts a career as a healer. She tries to use her powers for good and is being quite successful until her evil twin shows up. Kammi recognizes the power within herself as well but has far worse intentions. She causes a general chaos in confusing the townsfolk of which one is Kammi and which one is Emmy, classic twin mayhem. But she also wants to corrupt Emmy and have them destroy everything together. Emmy resists and will continue to do so throughout the whole series.
Emmy never really gets a taste for the evil side of things. I was honestly hoping she would dip her toe a little further into that pond. It seemed a little too easy for Emmy to continue down the path of righteousness when she has so much reality manipulating power to experiment with. However, everyone thinks she has or will commit atrocious acts and is scared of her nonetheless.
That’s what much of this book is about. Are you born evil? Can you become evil? Can you resist evil? I think the book tries to make the point that you can resist evil but in actuality it seems that Kammi was born the evil twin and behaved accordingly and Emmy was born the good twin and barely waffled. Or maybe they were both born evil and Emmy chose to become good. When we get a flashback to their mother we see that she was driven mad by seeing their true nature.
Emmy’s family ties remain solely her loving father. Until she meets a society of other ancient powers who promise to take her in and show her the way. Turns out they’re all super baddies. They giver her rules that she must live by and she refuses. Good on Emmy.
I have never understood why in so many fantasy books or movies a young character is shown “the way” and they just buy right in without questioning any of it. This society tells her that she must never kill another being with these powers, especially not to eat them and get double powers, but she can kill whatever humans need killin’.
She recognizes this as some racist malarkey and says, “no, I’ll continue protecting the community that raised me to not be a murderer thank you very much.” They don’t like this. They know that she is not actually the reincarnation of Hester but of an even more powerful witch, Amarynth, and they should be scared. Kammi is actually the evil incarnation of Hester and is powerful but not as willed, just more chaotic.
The society also makes the point that one of Emmy’s “haints” or demon helpers from the woods is also actually an ancient power from this society. We find out that he also defected and isn’t as scary as he looks. Since he’s a gigantic multi eyed, bull horned, monster that’s a relief.
Where has Kammi been? Well she’s an evil doll now. But not for long. We do have a handful of basic horror tropes thrown in throughout this series but they’re all actually pretty fun and not as trite as they sound. I think the art helps in that they’re drawn well and painted in a way that makes them creepy and not campy.
After Emmy decides to not join a force of ancient evil she is attacked by her best friend Bernice. While Emmy was away Bernice was getting convinced by an old mystic that Emmy must be destroyed. She learned some sort of bible magic that involves quoting verses and hucking garlic.
Bernice intends on killing Emmy for the greater good. Even though Emmy has yet to actually do a single wrong thing. But her magic is evil and the magic Bernice learns can’t be? One of the themes of the book seems to be about assumptions and how people judge one another based on nothing but appearances and gossip.
Bernice knows that Emmy is a good person but because a wise old woman told her otherwise she is immediately okay with killing her and thinking herself right for it. Emmy continues to stand tall and refuses to kill Bernice when presented the opportunity, even in self defense.
Emmy finally gets pushed past being 100% good when Kammi returns to human form and starts killing just everything. The books gets really gory suddenly to amp up the intensity of the massacre she is causing. Emmy then kills Kammi and eats her flesh in order to gain enough power to stomp out Hester’s spirit for good. She gets caught consuming her flesh by Bernice, finally witness to her being the monster she thought she was, and recognizes that maybe that was too far.
By crossing that line she unleashes Hester’s spirit back into the world and she captures Emmy. Instead of fighting Hester in a big epic battle Emmy does what only Emmy could do, she relinquishes her power.
She ends it by sacrificing her own standing. Hester feeds off power and chaos, Amarynth has the humility to step back. With Hester defeated Emmy leaves Harrow County with her favorite haints. This allows for a satisfactory ending but also leaves it open should the author decide to follow her to other adventures.
Overall, I enjoyed this series and would recommend it for a Halloween binge. I always like when series actually have conclusions and seem to have been thought out in full instead of meandering wildly while publishers convince them to write four more. This series has been optioned by the SYFY channel to be turned into a TV show and hopefully they continue with the great southern gothic atmosphere and heart that this series maintained.
Series rating average: 4/5 young girls having an actual hero to look up to 👧👧👧👧
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