By Steph Post
Polis Books, January 2017
294 pages, $25.99
Reviewed by Eva Raczka
One of my favorite genres of literature, the southern gothic, often focuses on damaged characters. In addition to those characters, it sometimes includes supernatural elements such as ghosts or the devil in order to heighten the dark elements of plot. This genre can easily fall to tropes, and with a less skilled writer, the plot of Lightwood could have been filled with them. Steph Post, however, writes with a confident and skilled prose that moves the plot quickly along and creates strong characters that fills Lightwood with fresh surprises.
The novel opens on Judah Cannon released from prison and on his way home to a small town in rural Florida. Sitting in his favorite dive bar and remaining unrecognized for the moment:
He knew that he was lost, though he would never have admitted it, and he knew that Silas was not the swallow that was going to lead him to shore. If anything, the town would drown him, twisting its tentacles around his heart and dragging him down to the depths. Judah would have given anything for the anonymity sheltering him now to last forever.
And so we enter into the town of Silas and the Cannon family, who conducts criminal business in this world. Sister Tulah Atwell, an insidious and supernaturally-tinged enemy; Sherwood, the Cannon elder, who leads the Cannon brothers through the nefarious plots and violence that sustain their family. Then there’s Ramey, the love interest that evolves into one of the strongest characters of the novel.
Post writes with purpose and never overindulges in languid descriptions that do nothing to move the plot along. The end of each chapter bangs, and offers insight into a character or introduces a new cliffhanger. After a Cannon brother gets hurt in a crossfire during the robbery of a biker gang, Ramey and Judah decide on taking their own action, “Her mouth twisted in worry, but her eyes were hard and determined. ‘And you’re gonna go against Sherwood?’ Judah released her hand and slumped back in his chair. He considered her question for a moment and all the weight that it carried, all that it meant. He made a decision. ‘I’m gonna try’”.
Judah and Ramey become the power couple of the story, taking on all three of the obstacles that stand in the way of their freedom from crime and poverty: Sister Tulah, Sherwood Cannon, and the biker gang. Though the bikers’ narratives are not as engaging as Judah or Tulah’s, there are similar themes holding them all together that offers a satisfying cohesiveness.
Post has a great talent for moving through shifting points of view without losing depth for a character, as evidenced when Ramey takes on the task of stealing the biker’s money from the safe in Sherwood’s house and thinking back, “It was this same house that her father had brought her to for weekend barbeques. She had raced bikes around the sprawling acres of sandspurs and scrub pine with Judah and Benji when they were seven and tasted her first sip of whiskey at one of the bonfires behind the house when she was nine.”
It is this sense of history and family that ties her characters together, a weight that each is burdened with until it is managed to be thrown off. For Judah and Ramey, it is an act of willful choice to put their own relationship and a hope for the future first, despite what consequences may arise. The reader is let into the point of view of other characters involved, but it is Judah and Ramey that you cheer on all the way to the end. The violence that engulfs them is shocking, but the growing pain of choosing your happiness over your family’s happiness is entirely relatable.
Not only a badass modern love story, Lightwood is engaging and unpredictable with some brutal action scenes and great dialogue throughout. Lightwood has the best of the southern crime and southern gothic, and rises above the genre.