In the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, lonely Laurel Shelton lives in a cove outside the backwoods town of Mars Hill. The suspicious town folk consider her birthmark an omen of evil, and all the hardship in her life, including the deaths of her parents and the injury of her older brother Hank in World War I, as proof that she is cursed and a witch. Her difficult life begins to change, though, when a mute flute player named Walter mysteriously appears in the Cove.

When Walter is nearly stung to death by bees, Laurel and her brother take him in and he slowly begins to weave a spell around her heart more powerful than any magic the town’s residents suspect her of. But Walter has a dangerous secret, one that will bring all the patriotic fervor of the worst of the town down on their heads if he and Laurel can’t find a way to escape together and reach for a happiness she has never believed possible.

“The Cove” is a beautifully written, but ultimately unsatisfying new book by New York Times Bestselling author Ron Rash. The prose is lyrical, capturing both the beauty and the dark danger of the Cove, itself.

Descriptively, I was utterly swept away to a different time and place. And Laurel, the heroine of the piece, is a highly likeable and sympathetic character. Not only did I understand where she came from and what she has overcome, but once she meets Walter, I found myself engrossed and truly rooting for them to overcome the obstacles separating them from happiness and a future together.

Walter is also a strong character. For much of the book he is mute, and Rash must complete the difficult task of giving us a sense of his character without him speaking a word. He does this with a great deal of skill, using both Walter’s actions and the sections of the book that are written in his point of view to make him a fully formed individual with his own motivations and desires.

Despite all the positives in the writing and characters, the ending of the book felt like an abrupt attempt at obtaining some kind of literary legitimacy. Heart wrenching endings are certainly acceptable, but when they seem to have no meaning whatsoever, they don’t resonate emotionally, but instead fall flat and leave the reader feeling cheated. Like I did. In fact, I found myself yelling at my Kindle as the last 10 to 20 pages passed by and probably would have tossed it against the wall if it wouldn’t have broken it.

I would rate the book a strong 3.5 stars for its well-written prose and compelling characters, but would probably recommend that you pick it up as an eBook or wait for the paperback version, which will likely come out in the next year, rather than plunk down the full cover price of $26.99 for the hardback version.

Rating: ★★★ ½ (out of 5)

272 pages

$26.99 hardcover

$12.99 Kindle & Nook

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