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Review of VenCo by


by Cherie Dimaline

My silly “summer of witches” reading stretches into autumn and now (at least with my reviews) winter. Anyway, VenCo was published earlier this year to much acclaim. More importantly, it felt like Kara bait! Cherie Dimaline writing a contemporary fantasy book about witches? Sign me up. The result is as enjoyable as it is uneven, and while I wouldn’t call this one a masterpiece in the same vein as some of her other works, it’s a worthwhile read for any fan of Dimaline, witches, or some combination thereof.

Lucky St. James had a rocky childhood. Métis but disconnected from her community, largely raised by her grandmother, Stella, while her mother, Arnya, floated in and out of her life, Lucky spends most of her time worrying about Stella and where she and Stella will live now that they have been evicted from Stella’s apartment. As the adulting closes in around her, Lucky discovers a strange, decorative spoon that catapults her into the middle of a centuries-old conspiracy to protect women and witchcraft from the men who would root them out and kill them.

It’s interesting: my first time meeting Lucky wasn’t here but rather in the short short story “After ’While” published by CBC Books in 2017. I have used this story in my English class when teaching about fiction, and until I picked up VenCo, I had no idea that Lucky was wrapped up in actual magic! Nor, I suppose, did Lucky.

The Chosen One trope is so old and tired at this point as to be creaking under the weight of all its iterations. One would be forgiven for yawning slightly at the descriptions of Lucky’s journey, how she discovers her heritage as a witch and her involvement in a prophecy to protect witches and reignite the magic of a coven in North America. If you decide to follow Lucky’s story, it isn’t likely because you think the story is in any way unique. It’s probably because you like Lucky and Stella and the cast of characters Dimaline serves up to keep us invested. I know I do.

Lucky’s fierce protective spirit, especially when it comes to Stella, is front-and-centre in this narrative. This manifests explosively, impulsively. When she butts heads with Meena it’s usually because Meena is trying to be cautious or helpful—the good leader, the good strategist—whereas Lucky is prone to going full throttle into the danger. This makes for compelling tension and helps with the pacing, particularly towards the end of the book.

But the supporting cast, including Meena herself, Wendy, Freya, Morticia, Lucille, etc., are also a highlight here. I’m no expert, as a white woman, on Indigenous storytelling; however, I think I can see how Dimaline, who’s Métis from Georgian Bay, has drawn on the structures of Indigenous storytelling for this book. Each member of Lucky’s coven eventually tells her story, the book slowly circling around their characters until finally pulling us back into the main narrative. Of course, you might expect—and you would be right—that I’m particularly drawn to and appreciative of Freya’s story. To see a trans woman featured prominently in a book about womanhood and witchcraft is very affirming (and if you liked that, check out Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson). Nevertheless, each of the characters has a unique vector into their awakening to their identity of witch. That’s powerful.

In contrast, the antagonist, Jay Christos, is … meh. He’s a man. He’s an old and very powerful man, very single-minded in his goals. He oozes misogyny and clearly thrills from the sexual violence he exerts or plans to exert upon women. So he’s an appropriate choice of villain for this tale, and don’t get me wrong; I love the smackdown that Lucky lays upon him. But there is also an element of caricature going on here: the jacked up, ultra-misogynistic men in our world like Andrew Tate are indeed a problem, but so too are the less overtly dangerous men out there who soak up that worldview.

Similarly, as much as I enjoyed some of the interactions among the Mother, Maiden, and Crone, I feel like their interstitial moments add very little to the story. Prophetic structures are in general hard to pull off. In this case, it adds a fun ticking clock to the narrative, but even that seems like it’s deemphasized for much of the book.

What I absolutely loved, however, was the climax and the ending. I really dig how Dimaline uses Lucky’s dreams as a battlefield against Christos; there was some fantastic foreshadowing earlier in the book that prepared us for this confrontation, and it’s very rewarding. In these moments, Lucky truly comes into her own as a protagonist and a heroine, and it’s in her battle against Christos that VenCo truly achieves its height of unabating, electrifying suspense. I needed to see it through, needed to see her defeat him, needed to see her and Stella safe. I won’t spoil the ending; all I can say is that, for me, it largely makes up for any unevenness in the rest of the plot.

VenCo is not as allegorical as The Marrow Thieves and is not as intricately dark and dangerous as Empire of Wild. However, I like the idea and most of the execution. Above all else, I like seeing Dimaline try something new, push off in a different direction. I would read more about Lucky and her grandmother some day.


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