Author: Jennifer Thorne
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication date: October 4, 2022
Length: 288 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
On the idyllic island of Lute, every seventh summer, seven people die. No more, no less.
Lute and its inhabitants are blessed, year after year, with good weather, good health, and good fortune. They live a happy, superior life, untouched by the war that rages all around them. So it’s only fair that every seven years, on the day of the tithe, the island’s gift is honored.
Nina Treadway is new to The Day. A Florida girl by birth, she became a Lady through her marriage to Lord Treadway, whose family has long protected the island. Nina’s heard about The Day, of course. Heard about the horrific tragedies, the lives lost, but she doesn’t believe in it. It’s all superstitious nonsense. Stories told to keep newcomers at bay and youngsters in line.
Then The Day begins. And it’s a day of nightmares, of grief, of reckoning. But it is also a day of community. Of survival and strength. Of love, at its most pure and untamed. When The Day ends, Nina―and Lute―will never be the same.
In the world of Lute, the residents of this peaceful place truly live in an island paradise. Lute is located in the Bristol Channel, a small place with one little village, a grove of trees, some goats, gorgeous views, and a manor house that’s been occupied by the Treadway family for centuries.
Lute is also a haven from a war-torn world. We’re never told exactly when this story is taking place, but it’s set at some indefinite point in the future when the entire world is engulfed in a devastating war… the entire world except for Lute, that is. While many of Lute’s residents have been drafted or volunteered to serve, the war itself has never touched the island — no invasions, no air raids. All is peaceful.
Nina Treadway, the main character, has lived on Lute for almost seven years, after meeting the son of Lord Treadway on an ocean voyage and then returning to the island with him after his father’s sudden death. After all her years on Lute with her husband and two children, Nina feels settled, but not truly a part of the island community. She doesn’t quite fit in with the townsfolk, and she accepts as quaint tradition the island lore about The Day.
What is The Day? Going back thousands of years, the islanders believe they live under the blessings of the old gods. In exchange for seven deaths on midsummer every seventh year, the island enjoys good weather, good fortune, and mostly importantly, peace. Nina scoffs at the stories, and really doesn’t believe that the good people of Lute actually believe in these stories that they tell.
But this is the seventh year, and as The Day approaches, the mood shifts to one of anticipation and dread. It can’t really be true… can it? These people can’t truly think that seven deaths are inevitable… can they?
Told in chapters that creep forward from three days before, to two days before, all the way through to The Day, which then unfolds pretty much hour by hour, Lute carries a growing feeling of anxiety and fear that’s hard to describe, but so impossible not to feel.
I wouldn’t describe Lute as a horror story — there’s very little in the way of gore or jump scares, and there’s no big bad lurking in corners. Still, I haven’t been this terrified reading a book in quite some time. The quiet creeping dread that builds and builds had my stomach in knots — and while part of me just absolutely did not want to know what was coming, another part simply couldn’t look away.
Lute is a fairly short book, and I think it’s probably best enjoyed in one big marathon read. I wish I’d been able to do that. By having to break up my reading time, it would take me a few beats before feeling immersed again, and that’s not at all the fault of the writing. This is a haunting, absorbing story that I think is best read by just diving in and staying with it to the end.
I’m not sure that I loved the wrap-up in the epilogue, although it does work. I also really did want to know more about the war and what was happening in the wider world… but then that would be a very different book. Those are my only quibbles, really.
All in all, I simply loved this book. The writing is beautiful and evocative and sets such an eerie, otherworldly tone. I loved getting to know the people of Lute, the history of the island, the origin of their legends, and the way the very rocks, waves, and trees seem to bring the mythology of the place to life. The beauty and isolation of Lute is presented as a blessing that comes with a price, and over the course of the book, we come to understand why the people of Lute are willing to pay that price, despite the pain and sorrows that come with it.
Lute is a very special reading experience. I highly recommend it.
4 thoughts on “Book Review: Lute by Jennifer Thorne”
Quiet fear like you describe in this book is sometimes the most suspenseful and terrifying. I definitely need to check this one…but at a time when I can sit down and read it all at once. 😀
I hope you love it! I just ordered a hard copy — I had an ARC, but I need this book for my shelves!
I’m glad you enjoyed this! I did too but not as much. It’s funny because I just finished Little Eve and I’m getting the two books mixed up, they are similar in some ways.
Oh, interesting, I don’t know anything about Little Eve — will look forward to hearing more!