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Luminaries by Susan Dennard

A review by Nalini Haynes

I can’t believe it – I’m back in Hemlock Falls for another novel! Each story, every author, tells a different story set in their own world but SO MANY AUTHORS use Hemlock Falls as a location! It’s hilarious. Anyhoo, Winnie Wednesday… Yes, that’s her name. Apparently Americans are pretty staid when it comes to naming their clans. The Wednesdays are Luminaries who hunt monsters on, believe it or not, Wednesday nights. Winnie Wednesday’s father, who is not a Wednesday, was a witch. So he fled town. And his wife, who was lead hunter for the Wednesday clan, was outcast from the clan along with her two children.

Outcast means being ostracized but doesn’t exclude them from remaining in the town and working for the Luminaries.

Winnie’s sweet sixteenth is coming up. She plans to endure the hunter tests despite having lost 4 years of training and regardless that even fully trained teens get killed during the tests. Because passing the tests to become a hunter releases her family from their exile.

Ok, the basic premise annoyed me because it seemed self-contradictory. Deeply annoyed. But, if you can set aside that epic contradiction, then The Luminaries is a fun Young Adult read that outsiders will enjoy.


Hemlock Falls isn’t precious about hunter origins. The Luminaries ensure there’s no inbreeding in this small town by assimilating people from all over the globe.

There’s a poor clan with hardly any family who, although being paid to be hunters and despite being the best hunters in Hemlock Falls, they don’t earn enough to pay for upkeep of their clan base. I don’t think that is racial discrimination because other clans also include mixed races. Also I suspect that issue might be foreshadowing something in a sequel. Either that or Dennard just used that to point out that working with inferior equipment can hone skills more than working with the best equipment.


Disability is a fraught issue, particularly in a novel where monster hunting is the town’s primary focus. Dennard includes two characters with notable disabilities. One, the principal of the school, is in a wheelchair. The other, a hospitality owner/worker, uses a prosthetic leg. Both are retired from monster hunting.

A wheelchair user would face insurmountable difficulties with mobility in a forest at night with limited paths while fighting monsters. She’s obviously a reference to Professor X, which is a nice nod.

However, there’s no explanation for the prosthetic user, Jo, retiring. It’s possible Jo had PTSD or something but I got the sense that disabled people are put out to pasture. Not considered capable of equal contribution. Yadda yadda. Hasn’t Dennard seen, for example, the furor about the Blade Runner wanting to run in the London Olympics? Competitors feared he might have an unfair advantage. The Luminaries says:

Jo is a former Tuesday hunter who had to have her leg amputated after a droll encounter. She moves easily about on a prosthetic, filling orders… (p170).

Without even a flippant “she retired when she got to X age” or “post-trauma…” or “post-rehab…” this seems to imply that acquired disability removes ability.

I’m giving representation of disability 2 out of 5 because at least people with disabilities are mentioned.

The verdict

Winnie experiences considerable personal growth despite luck – or a guardian angel – keeping her alive during her trials. She learns to value friends based on – shock, horror – actual friendship and loyalty. There’s a mystery to unravel and relationships to patch because Winnie hasn’t been the best of friends either. Dennard clearly intends The Luminaries to have at least one sequel.

For a primary to middle school aged audience, I give The Luminaries 4 stars. Note: drug use is mentioned. Not in an “omg let’s get plastered” way, but in a “he’s stoned AGAIN” way. And there is underage drinking but also consequences. The publisher says this novel is for ages 13 to 18. I’d give this book to both my kids if they were still age 10 or over. Not to my son once he was 14 though… he started looking for darker reads. Pretty sure that was about the age he discovered A Song Of Ice And Fire. I might not have been quite so enthusiastic about him reading if I’d known the contents but whatever. Both my kids learned to love books. I’m all about the literacy!

If you enjoy The Luminaries, read The Ones That Disappeared by Zana Fraillon.

AViVa says “we are all outcasts”. Her music and novels are based on this premise. If you enjoy her work, you’ll love The Luminaries.

Book details

ISBN: 9781250194114
Imprint: Tor Books (PanMacmillan)
Format: paper, 384 pages
Released: 2023
Category: young adult, outcast, fantasy

The Luminaries by Susan Dennard: a monstrous skull is surrounded by leaves and flowers


Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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