The Lantern’s Ember by Colleen Houck

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The line between greatness and villainy is as thin as a garrote wire.

Friends, I was really excited for The Lantern’s Ember from the moment I saw this stunning cover and read the synopsis, and I was so excited to get an opportunity to read an advanced copy for review. While the book started strong and appeared to be full of spooky folklore, overall this book unfortunately did not live up to my expectations as it quickly descended into drama, angst, and a predictable plot. While it is a fast read, I found the characters to be one-dimensional and mostly unlikable, lacking growth, and I was left wanting more about the characters and the world.

The premise of this book is so interesting: the Otherworld is a realm where all those creatures that we thought were fictional live. Goblins, werewolves, vampires, and more are all real! The worldbuilding for tinkers and the technological advances that the Otherworld has made with the harnessing of witchlight was really interesting but I found that outside of the witchlight the worldbuilding was nonexistant.

‘One doesn’t choose to become a lantern. Most of us are tricked into it.’

The synopsis led me to believe that Jack’s past and his five hundred years of experience as a Lantern would play a bigger role than it did. I was drawn in by the idea of his role as a gatekeeper of the Otherworld, and quite frankly I am a sucker for stories that involve characters that have long lives… there is something so interesting about watching a character see cultural change and this is something that I think was definitely missing.

Ember O’Dare is an orphaned witch that lives in a town near Jack’s Crossroads. He’s been watching her from afar ever since she was a young child, and while she hadn’t seen him she always felt his presence and protection. I thought it was kind of cute how she kept trying to entice him to show himself to her, and their interactions throughout the book honestly are the only characters that I liked. I love strong female characters, but there is a fine line between strong and indignant and she gets herself into huge messes because she thinks she knows everything when she knows nothing. Like 90% of me reading this book was screaming at her being like “oh, I didn’t know it was so dangerous” when she literally had been told repeatedly that it was dangerous. Ugh she frustrated me to no end.

The third-person omniscient narrative style constantly shifts perspectives between the characters (often mid-page), and as a result I never really felt connected to any of the characters. I would have expected Ember and Jack to be the main characters, perhaps with dual-POV storytelling from their perspectives, but I found the narration a jumbled mess that was at times difficult to follow. The story may have been stronger with a more dedicated narrative perspective.

While the book’s blurb definitely is accurate, I feel that it was a bit misleading as so much of the actual narrative seemed to center around romantic feelings. There was kind of a love rectangle and it was kind of weird as none of the characters were really developed. While I am not a huge fan of the romance genre, I do not mind it as part of the story but it kind of grated my nerves – particularly Dev’s character, who I found to be incredibly obsessive and possessive.

All of the characters in this book were essentially the embodiment of a trope: Ember is “not like anyone else,” Dev is the “Edward Cullen kind of obsessed love interest,” Finney is the “guy in love with his best friend,” and Jack is the “honorable love interest that wants what is best.” The characters do not really act outside of their trope and are largely unchanged at the end of the book.

I really enjoyed how folk legends such as the lost colony at Roanoke, the Headless Horseman, and the boogeyman were “explained” in this fictional world, and like I previously said I really loved the concept of the Otherworld! I just wish that more time had been dedicated to worldbuilding and that there was a clear narrative POV – I think that would have made this story a lot stronger. Honestly the “twist” at the end I picked up on at the beginning of the book so I was hardly surprised (except that it was meant to be a twist lol).

The theme of life and what makes it worth living is there in the text, especially given that most of the characters are otherworlder’s that have had long lives. It is most evident with Jack and his life as a lantern, one that he would not have chosen for himself. “Maybe the purpose of life is to experience those things, however fleeting. I’ll never know now what my life might have been.” 

Overall I found The Lantern’s Ember to be an interesting story with a lot of promise but lacking in character development. Since I read an ARC it is possible that some additional editing happened and some of the issues I had could be addressed in the finished copy. I think if you go in expecting it to be an angsty romance with some steampunk & fantasy elements you will enjoy this book. Honestly it kind of reminds me a lot of Twilight, which I didn’t like, so if you enjoy that kind of story this may be for you. This book is a standalone (which I really appreciate because they are so rare in YA fantasy) and truly wraps up everything at the end with a neat little bow (which seemed too perfect but honestly is the least of my issues here).

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me an electronic advanced reader copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Quotations taken from an uncorrected proof and may change upon final publication. You can find information about my rating criteria here.

Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.

Five hundred years ago, Jack made a deal with the devil. It’s difficult for him to remember much about his mortal days. So, he focuses on fulfilling his sentence as a Lantern—one of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, a realm crawling with every nightmarish creature imaginable. Jack has spent centuries jumping from town to town, ensuring that nary a mortal—or not-so-mortal—soul slips past him. That is, until he meets beautiful Ember O’Dare.

Seventeen, stubborn, and a natural-born witch, Ember feels a strong pull to the Otherworld. Undeterred by Jack’s warnings, she crosses into the forbidden plane with the help of a mysterious and debonair vampire—and the chase through a dazzling, dangerous world is on. Jack must do everything in his power to get Ember back where she belongs before both the earthly and unearthly worlds descend into chaos.


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

14 thoughts on “The Lantern’s Ember by Colleen Houck

  1. I was completely on board with that synopsis until I saw ‘vampire,’ and then I backed away. Shame. I liked the cover and the general concept (pre-vampire, obviously).

    I can’t deal with angsty romance though, so it was probably for the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should have listened to my gut on the vampire thing like you did… because in retrospect it is like a giant and glaring red flag for me now. It is such a cool idea kind of mulled by a Twilight-esque angsty plot, and it is a real shame.


  2. This is such an amazing and thorough review Kaleena! I love the premise but I can see why this book didn’t live up to your expectation. I think I’m gonna pass this one too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very in-depth review! I really enjoyed reading it and the way you considered the different elements of the book do thoughtfully! Sounds all too much like a lot of rather mediocre YA fantasy out there!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeeeh it really didn’t hook me. I’ve read a couple reviews that were very positive… a few mixed ones… and I just don’t think I’m going to pick it up tbh

        Liked by 1 person

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