“Deadly Hemlock” by Kathleen Peacock


Hello again blogosphere!

I haven’t forgotten you! Although, given that my last post was in February, two years ago, I forgive you for thinking I had.

So what happened over the past two years? I decided to completely fill up my time with work and study and almost nothing else. In those two years, I learned my limits (emotionally and mentally), I baked so I could cope, and I read a whole lot of books that I just didn’t review. 

Over the past few months, I’ve been itching to get back in to reviewing. I’ve been posting longer and more detailed reviews on GoodReads for weeks now and have been promising myself that I would get back into this. But, apparently, even during a global pandemic, I didn’t quite have the time. 

But still, I promised myself that I would get back into things eventually. I was waiting for the right book.

And oh boy, was Deadly Hemlock the right book. I have so many feelings about this, that I decided to spare GoodReads. I’ll pare down my thoughts for that platform. But here? I’m so sorry, but now you get to experience my complete and unadulterated opinion on the first novel in the Hemlock trilogy.

Before you ask…no. I will not be reading the remaining two novels. 

Don’t get me wrong, the plot was great. I loved it. Lupine Syndrome, or a disease that infects people and turns them into werewolves, has been confirmed by the US Government. People with LS are less than human in the eyes of the law. They don’t share the same rights and privileges as “regs”, or humans. And so anyone infected gets taken away to internment camps so they cannot infect anyone else. Standard fantasy rules apply: infection occurs through bites or scratches.
A group called the Trackers, an offshoot of your stock-standard white supremacy groups, makes targeting people with LS their main priority and makes it their mission to ensure all of these people are locked up. Even if not everyone with LS is actually dangerous. Prejudice at its finest.

In this world we meet Mac. And her best friend, Amy, was killed by a werewolf. Instead of working with the Trackers to find Amy’s killer, Mac decides to investigate alone. And what she finds makes her question everything she knows about her best friend’s death.


This sounds amazing, right? Like, based on what I said above, how could you not what to find out more about this world? Werewolves confirmed by official organisations? Vigilante bigots hunting them down? The idea of “good” werewolves? And a murder mystery? Sign me up!

But I have to burst your bubble. Although the plot is delicious, the story falls flat and this has everything to do with the main character. Our narrator. There are plot issues I will get into as well, but the narrator is the biggest issue.

People who grew up in the time of Twilight would be familiar with the character Bella Swan. It is widely accepted that she was written as blandly as possible so that female readers could insert themselves into Meyer’s story and be vicariously wooed by sparkly Edward. 
Mac is written the same way. I tried so hard to find her personality in this story, but I came up short. It seems as though Mackenzie’s entire personality is derived from her terrible upbringing. That is all we get. This gets mentioned every once in a while to explain why Mac is doing something in a scene.
In every interaction Mac is in, she seems to just exist to move the plot along. I honestly do not believe that her character influenced the story at all. However, her character is needed because she is somehow important to two of the other main characters: Kyle, her current love interest; and Jason, the boyfriend of her horrifically murdered best friend.
Apparently, both of these young men are madly in love with her. But for the life of me, I could not figure out why. Mac is described as tough (usually in dialogue, or internal monologue), but I did not get that impression at all. She stared down a few people who tried to intimidate her, and she took a few swings at some thugs (lupine and human), but all in all she was your archetypal damsel-in-distress character. Whenever she got into trouble, deus ex machina intervened and someone was always there to save her. Also, for someone who tells her reader that she hates anybody seeing her cry, she sure does a lot of public crying.
I don’t condemn characters crying at all. It is a legitimate response to stressful situations. But in every other scene, Mac started bawling her eyes out. After the twelfth time, it all felt a bit samey. Yes, her best friend was murdered; yes, she has been having horrific nightmares; yes, she gets brutally attacked by both Trackers and werewolves several times. But, could she not have reacted another way? Hell, even Bella stopped crying after Edward left and started doing weird shit like jumping off cliffs and speeding around on motorbikes.

I feel as though the rest of the cast of characters fared a lot better in their character development. Even Kyle, who is the lovable good guy in the love triangle. Jason, of course, is the troubled bad boy with a heart of gold. Yes, we had stereotypes, but the rest of the characters actually felt as though they had some depth to them. Mackenzie felt like a paper doll.

Now, for the plot. The only reason I kept reading was the murder mystery. And the whole idea of werewolves becoming a political issue. But the murder mystery felt very, very half-assed. At a point about halfway through the book, we discover that Mac had compiled a whole bunch of information about werewolves. It just appears. And it’s at this time that she asks Jason, who is the son of an incredibly influential man in town, for the police report on Amy’s death. And she gets it. There’s really no complication in this. Jason refuses at first, and then gives in a few pages later and hands it over.
In that file is a post-it with the name of the initial investigating officer.
Mac and Kyle eventually visit this guy who explains that “half the file is missing” and advises that there was some interesting details in the autopsy report that were omitted. They don’t ever find this autopsy report, they just take this guy’s word for it.
The next piece of evidence? A receipt found in a borrowed jacket. And this apparently is enough to break the case and make Mac the focus of a huge Tracker manhunt.

I mean…REALLY?

I did enjoy finding out who the real killer was (I had my suspicions, but I didn’t get it 100% right). But this half-assed mystery really annoyed me. We got a ridiculous fight between Mac and Kyle’s ex-girlfriend that spanned multiple pages and barely moved the plot, and yet a crumpled piece of paper Mac found by accident was essentially just a paragraph.

Finally, i just need to point out that, at one point in the book the author uses the word “mutter-asked”. This has bugged me since I read it. The “-asked” did not need to be there. “Muttered” would have been fine. 

So, to sum up, this novel promises a fantastic plot, with real intrigue and depth. But what we get is the worst kind of YA, with a nothing narrator and a barely-there mystery. And a hackneyed love triangle that honestly makes zero sense.

I have never read a book I didn’t absolutely adore this quickly. In hindsight, I think I wanted to get to the end so that I could be done with this whole affair.




About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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1 Response to “Deadly Hemlock” by Kathleen Peacock

  1. Pingback: “Charming” by Elliott James (Pax Arcana #1) | My Infernal Imagination

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