The Wicked Deep

The Wicked Deep cover


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Book Review

In The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. Three sisters drowned for witchcraft in 1822 still haunt Sparrow harbor. Bo arrives to destroy the ghosts, unaware that his new love, Penny, is one of them.

Plot Summary

Seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot lives on Lumiere Island near the coastal town of Sparrow, Oregon. Her parents purchased the lighthouse island with plans to renovate. But three years earlier, Dad disappeared. Mom remains depressed and distant.

In early summer, tourists flock to the sleepy town. They come to investigate the legend of the Swan sisters, three young women who beguiled the men of Sparrow in 1822 and were drowned as witches. Every year, from June 1 to the summer solstice, the spirits of Marguerite, Aurora and Hazel Swan possesses the bodies of local girls. Using her host body, each sister seduces young men and drowns them in the harbor.

Penny and her friend, Rose, attend the annual beach party to kick off tourist season. Penny begins talking with 18-year-old Bo Carter, an out-of-towner looking for work and a place to stay. She says he can help out on Lumiere Island, and she gets him settled into one of the run-down cabins on the property later that night.

Over the next week, Penny and Bo work together to revive the Talbots’ dying fruit orchard. Bo is incredulous as Penny, Rose and Rose’s boyfriend, Heath, tell stories of the Swan sisters and their killing sprees.

Penny, Rose, Heath and Bo find the year’s first Swan victim floating in the water and alert the police. Penny has never told anyone, but she knows which girls have been possessed. She can see the ghosts of the Swan sisters in their hosts’ faces. Penny walks past a fellow student named Olivia later that morning and recognizes the ghost of Marguerite.

Two more young men are found dead a few days later. Someone reports seeing Rose’s old friend, Gigi, in the water with the drowning victims. Penny secretly notes Aurora Swan has inhabited Gigi’s body. Two male classmates bind Gigi and imprison her in a boathouse. When Olivia arrives, she touches and whispers to Bo. Penny knows Marguerite has put him under her spell.

Back on the island, Penny urges the now-disoriented Bo to leave town before he becomes the next victim. Bo reveals he came to Sparrow because his older brother, Kyle, died there the previous year. The death was ruled a suicide, but he knows it isn’t true. He says he won’t leave town without getting answers and avenging his brother’s death.

Marguerite calls to Bo, luring him from his cabin into the ocean. The dazed boy swims out in search of Marguerite, and Penny dives in after him. Penny catches up and kisses him passionately. This releases him from Marguerite’s spell.

Bo and Penny put on dry clothes and warm themselves by Bo’s fire. Penny admits she can see the Swans’ spirits in Olivia and Gigi and warns Bo to be careful. He asks if she’s seen the third sister, Hazel, but she says she hasn’t. They begin to kiss and end up spending the next several days in Bo’s cabin.

Between their moments of intimacy, they discuss the Swan sisters. Bo is convinced the only way to break the curse is to kill the girls the Swans currently possess. Penny argues he’d be taking innocent lives, and Bo counters that it’s better than continuing to let boys die every year.

Rose springs Gigi from the boathouse and brings her to Lumiere Island for protection. Penny and Bo don’t tell Rose she has rescued Aurora Swan. They agree to hide “Gigi” so they can keep an eye on her, and they imprison her in another of the island cabins.

Penny and Aurora converse privately, and readers discover Hazel has possessed Penny. She’s been in Penny’s body since just after the beach party and has lived there for the past three summers. Now that she has met Bo, Hazel wants to stay in Penny’s body forever.

Marguerite, still appearing as Olivia, tells local teens the summer solstice party will be on Lumiere Island. Kids begin to converge on Penny’s property. At midnight, the Swan curse will pull the sisters back into the sea. Hazel plans to fight this so she can remain with Bo, even though she knows it may cause intense physical pain. Bo, still oblivious that he’s been having a relationship with Hazel, is determined to kill Gigi and Olivia before midnight.

Aurora escapes the cabin and tries to hypnotize and kill the two boys who locked her in the boathouse. While Hazel is trying to stop her, Bo traps Marguerite at the top of the lighthouse. When Hazel finally reaches them, Marguerite tells Bo the truth about her little sister. Bo also discovers Hazel was responsible for the deaths of his brother and Penny’s father.

Hazel realizes it’s wrong to take Penny’s life and sees that Bo will never be able to forgive her. She convinces him to take her out on a boat. If she drowns in Penny’s body before midnight of the summer solstice, she and her sisters will cease to haunt the town. Bo must pull Penny’s body from the ocean so the real Penny can live. Bo complies, Hazel sacrifices herself, and the Swan curse is broken.

The bodies of the Swan sisters wash ashore the next day. Bo continues to work on the island and develops a relationship with the Penny he met on the beach the first night. Hazel still roams the town and whispers occasional words of love in Bo’s ear.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Penny’s mother used to read tea leaves to tell tourists’ fortunes. After her husband’s disappearance, she says fate has abandoned her. She can sense when people are near, even if she hasn’t seen them.

The annual Swan Festival includes palm readings, reenactments of the Swans’ drownings and other witchcraft-related items and events. Penny’s father purchased books on witchcraft, legends, omens and curses in an effort to break the Swan curse.

The Swan sisters were alluring girls, but they never actually practiced magic. Aurora sometimes left pieces of glass or rat tails on the doorsteps of women she disliked, hoping they would be scared or hurt themselves.

The ghosts of the Swan sisters possess local girls and kill boys from June 1 to the summer solstice. The only way to end their killing sprees is to kill one of the girls they possess.

Authority Roles

Penny’s father purchases books on spells and witchcraft, hoping to learn how to stop the Swan sisters’ reign of terror. Penny’s mother is depressed after her husband disappears, but she begins smiling, humming and reading tea leaves again after the Swan curse is broken. Bo says his parents dealt with his brother’s alleged suicide by ignoring it.

The Swan sisters each had a different father they never knew. Their mother had numerous affairs and abandoned the girls as preteens to go to Paris with yet another man.

Profanity & Violence

The Lord’s name is used in vain. Words including the f-word, s—, crap, a–hole, pr–k, h— and p—ed appear a number of times.

The Swan sisters were killed for being witches. The dead bodies of young men are found from June 1 to the summer solstice. Penny must drown so the Swan sisters die. Then Penny is revived.

Sexual Content

The Swan sisters’ mother sometimes dabbed perfume between her thighs to entice lovers. The sisters seduced and slept with numerous men over their 200 years of haunting Sparrow.

Hazel loves and plans to marry a boy named Owen in 1822. His father catches them in bed together and finds a way to kill her and her sisters. Penny (possessed by Hazel) and Bo kiss and touch passionately, sometimes undressed. They stay together in his cabin for several days. A sexual relationship is implied but not described in detail.

Discussion Topics


Additional Comments

Alcohol: Penny, Rose, Bo, Heath and many other teens frequently drink and get drunk on wine, whiskey and beer stolen from their parents’ liquor cabinets. At the summer solstice party, teens stumble over the bonfire, spill drinks on themselves and vomit on the beach.

Lies: Hazel lies to Bo about her identity. She urges him to tell his parents he’s alive, even if he lies about where he is.

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