River Of Ashes (St Benedict #1) by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor

First, I have to say that I’m really glad that this is being marketed as horror and not Young Adult, despite the main cast all being teenagers. There’s quite a bit of graphic stuff in here that probably isn’t suitable for the fade-to-black nature of the YA genre, and the last thing anyone needs is for readers to feel betrayed by reasonably expecting one thing and getting another instead.

That said, this is classic horror a la Psycho or American Psycho (which always amuses me as a title because it’s not like Alfred Hitchcock’s version was German or something.) You have a terrible person at its heart, with supernatural elements adorning the story. But really the book is about our heroine Leslie Moore and the villain set on claiming her for himself, her twin sister’s boyfriend Beau Devereaux.

The Devereaux family essentially owns the small Louisiana town of St Benedict, located on the banks of the Bogue Falaya River. Beau, the high school quarterback, straight-A student and all-around golden boy, is basically their town’s crown prince. Dawn Moore has been in love with him since ninth grade, and leaps at the chance to be his girlfriend. As the pretty, popular captain of the cheerleading squad, she seems like the perfect match for Beau.

Trouble is, he really wants her quiet, serious sister Leslie, and is only putting up with Dawn because being with her helps burnish his unassailable reputation. This would be awkward enough even if Beau weren’t a straight-up psychopath. He uses every opportunity he can to get close to Leslie and say awful, degrading things to her, then turns around and tells Dawn that Leslie is coming on to him. This naturally creates a rift between the sisters.

The teenagers of St Benedict have a habit of partying at a spot they call “the River”, near an abandoned abbey that now lies in ruins. Couples often sneak away into the abbey to be alone, and Beau and Dawn are no different. But Beau also likes to invite other girls there when his girlfriend is otherwise occupied. When one of his illicit trysts goes too far, a fire is awakened in him that threatens to consume not only himself but the entire town.

This is an absorbing book that invites readers into the mind of a really awful dude. It’s not for everyone, but it does offer a realistic portrayal of how truly gross and unsympathetic the thought processes of a monster like Beau Devereaux are. I mostly enjoyed the book, but have a hard time getting over Leslie deciding to make a romantic gesture to her boyfriend in a place that creeps her out and where she learned someone was recently raped, like wtf? It felt more like plot driving the characters than the other way around.

The novel does, however, realistically portray how young women so often respond to sexual assault. There’s no real happy ending for any of the people in these pages, but at least there’s hope that even self-interest will lead people to do the right thing when necessary.

I’ll be reviewing the next book in the series tomorrow, so check back in for that!

River Of Ashes (St Benedict #1) by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor was published August 2 2022 by Vesuvian Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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