Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Mayhem by Estelle Laure—thank you to Wednesday Books for inviting me to take part and sending me a review copy of this book via NetGalley! You can treat yourself to a copy of Mayhem here.
Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths. She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.
by Estelle Laure
On-sale: 14 July, 2020
It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else.
But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inheritand which will change her life for good.
But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.
From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.
TW: I will be discussing domestic abuse, suicide and sexual assault in this review.
Mayhem Brayburn has sat back and watched her stepfather, Lyle, physically and mentally abuse her mother, Roxy, for years, until one day Roxy snaps and she and Mayhem flee to Roxy’s childhood home in Santa Maria, the place to which she once said she’d never return. Mayhem hasn’t been in Santa Maria since she was three-years-old, when her father committed suicide, and upon her return she discovers Roxy has been keeping a lot of secrets about their family’s history.
I love the idea behind Mayhem and I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy reading it, but for the sake of ending on a high note I’m going to get what I wasn’t so keen on out the way with first.
That this novel essentially explores witchcraft as a way for women, or anyone who isn’t in a position of power, to seek justice for wrongs that have been done to them and to others is something I liked and something I’ve seen many times before, so we know it works. Witchcraft in fiction is inherently a metaphor for seeking power within ourselves rather than from outside forces, but Mayhem did something I’ve seen before where the magic in the Brayburn family stems from a woman seeking revenge after being sexually assaulted.
That idea of magic, though I completely understand where it comes from and I think is timely considering we’re now having much more open conversations about assault and abuse, never quite works for me personally. I don’t like the idea that a woman – or anyone – has to go through an ordeal like that to access the kind of power that the Brayburn women wield. That said, I did really appreciate that Mayhem herself questions the ethics of the Brayburns’ idea of justice. Yes people sometimes do awful things and they deserve to be punished for it, but are the Brayburn women who turn vigilante and murder threats to the people of Santa Maria really any better than the people they’re killing?
I wish I’d had a little more time with the magic system, and a little more time with this story in general. Mayhem moves incredibly quickly, and while that makes it a brilliantly fast and easy read for a hot summer day, it did also mean that I didn’t feel like I spent enough time with it. The storyline involving the missing girls wraps up in a flash, there’s a case of instalove between Mayhem and a boy named Jason who’s living with her aunt with two other girls, and I’d’ve liked to have known the secondary characters much better than I did.
In a way, though, I did like how the fast-paced nature of this story echoed the long summers of my own childhood and teens, when those weeks away from school seemed endless and the long summer days were full of possibility. So much could happen in a day when you’re 17, and I loved that Mayhem grabs life by the horns once she’s in Santa Maria and she’s allowed to be a teenager, instead of a young woman who needs to sleep in the same bed as her mother to prevent her stepfather’s abuse.
It’s a very filmic novel, which makes sense considering its comparison to The Lost Boys and The Craft. I haven’t seen The Craft but Mayhem definitely has a Lost Boys vibe and I’ve seen some reviewers say they’re too similar, but if you’re someone like me, who’s only seen The Lost Boys once or hasn’t seen it at all, I don’t think the similarities will bother you. Other than the setting I honestly couldn’t tell you anything else that I recognised from The Lost Boys.
That filmic vibe does mean Mayhem is an ideal summer read, though, especially if you want to spend a day on the beach and read a whole book while you’re there. I really enjoyed Laure’s writing—from the first page I was sucked in and loved Mayhem’s narrative voice, and I really enjoyed her mother, Roxy, too. Their relationship was my favourite thing about this novel, so if Laure wanted to write me a spin-off all about Roxy I’d have no problems with that at all.
I actually found this novel a lot of fun to read aloud, which I wasn’t expecting, and I imagine the audiobook would be fantastic.
Personally I think the best way to think of Mayhem is not as a fantasy novel, but as a Gothic novel. This is a summery Gothic tale set against a 1980s backdrop, complete with family secrets and young women coming of age, so if you’re a fan of stories about families, womanhood and first love, you should give Mayhem a try.