September 08, 2016

Matthew S. Cox: "Nine Candles of Deepest Black" (ARC Review)

Title: Nine Candles of Deepest Black  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Matthew S. Cox [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Strong mix of supernatural and horror. Characters with authentic voices. Great development of a sibling relationship.
Cons: A little heavy on the descriptive side. Some aspects of the supernatural plot are a bit derivative, or leave too little to the imagination (e.g.: the demon).
WARNING! Blood, gruesome deaths and spiders in all sizes.
Will appeal to: Supernatural/horror lovers who can appreciate a coming-of-age story with a strong accent on family.

Blurb: Almost a year after tragedy shattered her family, sixteen-year-old Paige Thomas can’t break free from her guilt. Her mother ignores her, doting on her annoying little sister, while her father is a barely-functioning shell. He hopes a move to the quiet little town of Shadesboro PA will help them heal, but Paige doesn’t believe in happiness anymore. On her first day at school, a chance encounter with a bullied eighth grader reawakens a gift Paige had forgotten, and ingratiates her into a pack of local outcasts. For weeks, they’ve been trying to cast a ritual to fulfill their innermost desires, but all they’ve done is waste time. After witnessing Paige touch the Ouija board and trigger a paranormal event, the girls are convinced another try with their new fifth member will finally work. Once the darkness is unleashed, it’s not long before they learn it will give them exactly what they asked for - whether they want it or not. (Goodreads)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...
I'm a strong believer in reading a book at least twice in order to do it justice with my review. And sometimes I even like it more the second time around. This is one of those times.


Paige has always been a loner, living in the shadow of her older sister. After tragedy struck, she was devastated - and now she's only going through the motions, occasionally lashing out at her little sister who, in turn, idolises her. She looks Goth without even trying, so she decided to embrace it. A witchy look, you think? Maybe, but Paige is far from being your stereotyped little necromancer. Cox does a great job in that he doesn't introduce her as a magic-endowed character; the things she can do (which were first triggered by her love for her older sister and the sense of an approaching tragedy) are actually revealed bit by bit, and Paige herself doesn't know the extent of her powers until they are put to the test. Hers is a coming-of-age story as much as a magic-gone-wrong one, where her efforts to revert the deadly effects of a spell she acted as a catalyst for go hand-in-hand with a journey to make her family whole again - though it's missing a vital piece - and finally empathyse with other people. [...]


Paige's older sister's death ripped her family apart, but mostly tore at seams that were there already. As the middle and antisocial child (not to mention, the one firmly rejecting anything girly), Paige was already in a tight spot for more than a reason. Now she feels estranged from both her parents - though in different ways - and in turn rejects her pink-and-frills addicted, clingy little sister. Talk about a dysfunctional family. It seems to me that Paige's issues with her parents are maybe a bit extreme, even in the wake of the tragedy they've endured (of even more because of that), but I think her relationship with Melissa is spot-on, and the way she gets closer and closer to her, and ends up risking everything to save her from the unleashed evil, is completely believable and heart-warming. By the way, Melissa is so flesh-and-blood and adorable. I reject the girly act myself, but the author painted her so well, you gotta love her :).


The whole feminine world is spot-on in this book. The girls are believable and genuine, and their interaction quite effortless. Cox succeeds in creating characters from different age groups (16, 13, 8) and giving each one the right pitch. None of them reads like a spoof or a token (including Paige's black friend Renee)...with one possible exception, but then again, every story that deals with evil needs a bad guy gone worse ;). Even the dialogue sounds natural, not overly slangy neither too refined.
Oh, and did I mention the lack of romantic nonsense? I mean, Paige doesn't meet an infuriatingly handsome classmate or a super hot neighbour. How refreshing is that?


The actual magic is probably the less innovative aspect of the narration - I mean, this is, basically, your classic tale of witchcraft gone wrong, with your classic gone-off-the-edge bad guy (who seems to spiral into madness awfully quickly, too). Also, the actual demon is described in detail, horns included, which is maybe a little too heavy. Nevertheless, there's space for unexpected nuances. For example, the magic circle includes an 8th grader along with a bunch of seniors, and there are a few stereotype reversals as far as the girls are concerned (e.g., an affinity with witchcraft is not where you would expect to find it, and "black" doesn't necessarily mean "tough"). With magic comes horror, too - both physical and psychological - often graphic...but I have to say it's not the heaviest I've encountered in a YA book (unless you really hate spiders). The scare, though, is real :).


The biggest issue I have with NCODB is that it feels a bit overdescriptive in places. On the other hand, while readers are often complaining about too much telling vs. too little showing, we have to remember that, when a book is told in a 3rd person POV, telling can have the upper hand for obvious reasons, at least when the inner monologue is involved...we HAVE to be told what the character(s) think and feel - at least the main character(s). Having said that, maybe the narration could have benefited by a few less details.  I am also a little bothered by how classic the supernatural angle is, what with the demon and the Oujia board and a certain ghost. But it provides a familiar context to those who are already familiar with supernatural/horror without being too jaded, and it's a good business card for those who aren't. I wish Cox had been a little more daring with this novel, but all in all, I can't complain. The sisterly angle and Paige's growth as a person make enough amends for that :).

For my "A Nighttime of Forever" review (first installment in the Vampire Innocent series by the same author - NA) click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.


  1. Hmmmm, I'll have to think about this one - it does sound good, but at the same time I can't help feeling like I've already seen a very similar version of it in horror movies or read it in books. Specifically, it gives me all the typical horror movie vibes, but also sounds a bit like The Secret Circle by L. J. Smith. Plus I do have to take your rating into consideration, 3.5 does not seem like a new favorite.
    Well, wonderful review nonetheless, Roby! <3

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

    1. I haven't read The Secret Circle, but I've looked the serie up and it's nothing like Nine Candles (not only because we're talking a series vs. a standalone). Of course the witch circle is a classic, but it sounds like it's the only similarity there. It's difficult to explain NCODB without going into spoilers, but I believe it's a much more mature (and family-oriented) book than TSC ones are. As for my 3.5, it comes from measuring my level of entertainment/committment up against other books I've read - but to me it's a highly favourable rating. BTW, the rating thing...I'm going to write a post about it one day. It's bothering me for a few reasons...


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