A bold and ghostly stand-alone from New York Times bestselling author Colleen Houck, with all the moodiness of Sleepy Hollow and all the romance her fans love.
Welcome to a world where nightmarish creatures reign supreme.
Five hundred years ago, Jack made a deal with the devil. It's difficult for him to remember much about his mortal days. So he focuses on fulfilling his sentence as a Lanternone of the watchmen who guard the portals to the Otherworld, a realm crawling with every nightmarish creature imaginable. Jack has spent centuries jumping from town to town, ensuring that nary a mortalor not-so-mortalsoul slips past him. That is, until he meets beautiful Ember O'Dare.
Seventeen, stubborn, and a natural-born witch, Ember feels a strong pull to the Otherworld. Undeterred by Jack's warnings, she crosses into the forbidden plane with the help of a mysterious and debonair vampireand the chase through a dazzling, dangerous world is on. Jack must do everything in his power to get Ember back where she belongs before both the earthly and unearthly worlds descend into chaos.
Colleen Houck, the New York Times bestselling author of the Tiger's Curse series and the Reawakened series, breathes new life into classic folklore in this wild, twisting adventure propelled by the spirit of Halloween.
"[Houck] offers a fresh spin on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Kirkus Reviews
"A wild and seductive adventure. . . . A must-have for YA collections." SLJ
"The Lantern's Ember has something for everyone. From an old-timey village to ghost stories to pirates to steampunk influences, nobody is left unsatisfied." TeenReads.com
About the Author
Colleen Houck is the four-time New York Times bestselling author of the Tiger's Curse series, which has appeared on the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Walmart bestseller lists, among many others. She has been a Parents' Choice Award winner, and the reviewer for Romantic Times called Tiger's Curse "one of the best books I have ever read." Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a huge assortment of plush tigers. Find her online at colleenhouck.com or follow her on Twitter at @ColleenHouck.
Read an Excerpt
Jack sat on top of the covered bridge in his favorite spot, his arm draped over his carved pumpkin. The gourd wasn’t his first choice to house the ember of his immortality, but then again, he’d never really been given a choice.
It wasn’t the first time he’d heard of foolish men who’d made deals with the devil. During every scary story he’d been told as a child on long winter nights, he’d clutched his covers to his throat imagining frightening specters, red demons, or wicked-clawed ghouls looming out of swaying shadows, ready to snatch up unmindful children and trick them with beguiling words. His imagination never came close to the truth. And he’d certainly never envisioned those devils walking earth as mere men, dressed as pirates, storing stolen souls in harvest vegetables.
The devil who’d conscripted him five hundred years ago was named Rune. Jack barely remembered the town he was attempting to save by negotiating with Rune, or the boy he’d been when he’d done it. Now all the villagers were long dead. But not Jack. He wasn’t so lucky. Instead, Jack was stuck in a monotonous job, the same job Rune once had. And Jack had the pleasure of looking forward to another five hundred years of doing exactly the same thing day in and day out.
It wasn’t like the job was too difficult. It was mostly quiet, but when it wasn’t, he did everything from exporting entire herds of gremlins, to clearing caves full of werewolves, to capturing a flock of Otherworld bats. Jack had even done the highly dangerous job of evicting a nest of half-breed vampires from an underground necropolis, entirely on his own.
Admittedly, the swaggering pirate Rune had come to Jack’s aid a time or two, helping him avert what could have been disasters. But Jack quickly learned he didn’t appreciate how Rune handled mortals. Too many of them died or went insane under his care.
Eventually, Jack ended up at his current assignment, a quiet New England town called Hallowell that butted up against one of the most boring, sleepy crossroads in the entirety of the Otherworld. Rune had probably thought Jack would complain about the placement, but the town was pretty, if small. There were plenty of large oaks and maples, elms and dogwood trees to offer him shade during the day. And in the fall the colors were beautiful. There was something to be said for a quiet life.
It was lonely, but Jack was used to being alone.
He was about to summon his horse so he could ride through the forest while the red, orange, and yellow fall leaves rained down upon his head, when he heard a noise.
“Must you sit all the way up there?” Rune groused, emerging from the covered bridge and looking up at him. Smoke trailed in after the large man, pooling around his polished boots and caressing his ankles with long fingers. Stepping forward, Rune peeled off black leather gloves and stroked his short, boxed beard, shaved in thin lines and curls. “Someone could get past you before you could intervene. Besides, I hate craning my neck to have a conversation.”
Jack shrugged. “I like keeping my pumpkin far from the road, so there’s no risk it could get trampled on. Besides, I’d hear someone long before they got close.” Jack’s pumpkin never aged or decomposed, but it could be broken, and that made his soul vulnerable.
“Yes.” Rune fingered his firefly-shaped earring, a far better choice of vessels for a lantern to hide his ember than a fat orange gourd. He smiled up at Jack. The shaggy hair that slipped from his careless queue hung down to his shoulders, dark, except for a white streak that fell across his eyes. “I suppose, then, that’s a wise choice.”
“What do you want, Rune?” Jack asked.
“There’s been a rumor.”
“Your town. It would seem a witch wind is blowing and it’s coming from your crossroad.”
“My crossroad?” Jack said, leaping down with his pumpkin and landing easily next to Rune, feeling thin and pale next to Rune’s sun-kissed tan and deep-V silk shirt. “Are you certain?”
All the lanterns were apprised when a witch wind blew. The Lord of the Otherworld gathered winds from the mortal world in a great funnel. Most of the time, the winds blowing through the crossroads were normal, but every so often, a special wind blew, indicating that a witch had grown strong enough not only to enter the Otherworld but to undo it completely. Unless the witch was captured and his or her energy contained, the Otherworld as they knew it could be destroyed. Only one witch was permitted in the Otherworld. She was trusted not just to avoid destroying it, but also to run it. She was the high witch, the Lord’s wife, and provider of all the magical energy in that realm. All others were a dreadful danger.
“There are whispers,” Rune insisted. “Whispers in the wind of a powerful witch. One much more skillful than any you or I have dealt with before.” Rune’s own light glowed brighter, his earring winking as his dark skin brightened showing the skeleton lying beneath.
Jack sighed. “You must be mistaken,” he said. “I’ve peered beneath the skin of every citizen of this town. There’s not a drop of witch blood among them.” He was relieved to be able to tell Rune the absolute truth for once. Hallowell was full of very content, happy mortals.
“It’s not that I’m doubting your abilities, Jack,” Rune said, giving him a meaningful look that made Jack wince. “I just need to verify it for myself. You understand.”
Jack waved his hand in resignation and Rune sent his firefly high above the town. It zipped back and forth, pausing occasionally while the lantern himself stared into space, seeing through the eye of his light. His eyes glowed with a silver sheen and then finally dimmed.
“Told you,” Jack said. “Do you think it’s possible she got the location wrong? You could tell the high witch to look again.”
“If a witch wind is blowing, you can be sure there’s a witch or warlock out there. Look, I’m just asking you to watch. Be on your guard. And, if you see something, let me know.” He clapped Jack on the back. “Don’t worry, son; if you can’t finish the job, I’ve always got your back.”
Jack frowned, bristling at the slight. “Fine. I’ll send word if I find any trace of a witch,” Jack said.
“You do that.”
Rune left and Jack was too distracted to head off on his morning ride after all. Jack sat thinking about how strange it was for a witch wind to blow in his territory three times. Most lanterns never even had it happen once, but he’d been there when witches were detected at both Roanoke and Salem. It didn’t make sense. Perhaps he was just terribly unlucky.
He was thinking about it all day as he walked the borders of the town, and into the evening as he settled down for the night on top of his bridge. The light flickered in his pumpkin and he turned it so he could trace the eyes with his fingertip. He’d long ago hollowed out the orange globe and carved a smiling face. His only companion on long days and even longer nights. It comforted him to see his ember’s glow in the pumpkin’s expression. The light warmed him, giving him hope that somehow, somewhere, there was a spark of freedom waiting for him, even if it was at the end of a very long, weary road.
Jack had just fallen asleep when he heard the thunder of hooves on the road leading to town. Summoning his black stallion, he leapt off the bridge and onto the monstrous horse’s back as it materialized from the Otherworld, nostrils steaming and eyes glowing with fire. The horse reared and Jack, with the pumpkin tucked beneath his arm, kicked the horse’s sides, and they galloped toward the road.
He stopped on the hill and saw a carriage, shiny and new, a fine pair of horses pulling it quickly down the path. Jack chose not to show himself, but sent a moaning wind that frightened the driver who glanced right and left and cracked his whip to make the team run faster.
Jack, the lantern, sat and watched as the carriage made its way to town. Just as it passed him, the curtain moved and a small, white face was lit by a moonbeam. It was a wide-eyed little girl, her brown hair curled in ringlets. She pressed her hands against the glass and her pink mouth opened in a circle as she stared right at him.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book. I originally got it at a library but I felt like a digital review was really needed. This book is one of the best books I think I've ever read. The author made the charaters so loveable and I fell in love with Jack and Ember's romance. I really couldn't put the book down. This book is not a cliffhanger, but I did cry when it ended because I loved the book so much. This book does have a hapily ever after and is worth every penny.
The Lantern's Ember By: Colleen Houck Published by: Random House Children's / Delacorte Press This is a unique and imaginative retelling of the Jack O' Lantern story with what felt like a steampunk Otherworld vibe. Jack accepted the lesser of two evils when his town was cursed by a witch. Ironically enough Jack takes it upon himself to look after a witch many, many years later. It is Jack's job to guard the crossroads and to keep the two worlds, ours which is full of colonial humans and the Otherworld, which is full of steampunk urban sprawl and any imaginable creature from ghosts to trolls and everything in between. Jack is instructed to keep an eye out for any witches, you see they are very valuable for their witchlight, the spark inside of them that can power the Otherworld's most other worldly electrical devises and such. Jack takes it upon himself to look over Ember a young witch who is being raised by her elderly aunt who understands magic but doesn't perform any, leaving Ember to make it up as she goes along. Such an inquisitive girl who grows into a very gifted young woman who wants to see her "guardian" and learn about the Otherworld. Thus starts her adventure with a vampire, pirates, people who are more machine than human, and her childhood friend Finney. This was a delightful story that will appeal to young adults as well as adults with rich, descriptive words leading the imagination on an out of this world adventure. All of the main characters have something to offer in the way of quality of character even if they start out being the "shadier" sort of character.
Thought the end was a bit rushed but I liked it otherwise!
A very enjoyable read! The story revolves around a young witch, Ember, and a lantern, Jack, who monitors one of the crossroads between the mortal world and the Otherworld. Jack watches over Ember as she is growing up and becomes very fond of her. Ember gets through the crossroads to the Otherworld, feeling as if something is drawing here there. Interesting , adventurous and with a bit of romance and steampunk, too.
What first attracted me to The Lantern's Ember was the truly awesome cover! A decorated skull. Eerie glowing bugs. It's dark. It's moody. Then, you read the synopsis. Deals made with the devil. Nightmarish creatures. Forbidden travels. Chaos. All these things pointed to a spooky tale perfect for the approaching Halloween season. Alas, 'twas not to be... Instead of spookiness, nightmarish creatures, and chaos, I discovered a love square--not a triangle--and trope characters who never stray from their boundaries. Jack is a Lantern tasked with guarding the crossroads between the mortal world and the Otherworld. Ember is a Witch looking for trouble. Dev is an obsessive-possessive vampire. Finney is the guy in love with his best friend. I so wanted to like the characters, but I found them all tedious and their interactions wooden and bordering on boring. Honestly, by the time I reached the end of the book, I was glad it was a standalone and not the first in a series. Another annoyance I found was the author's decision to use a third person omniscient point of view. I don't mind being inside different character's heads, so to speak, but when the point of view changes midway through a page, then I have a major problem. It's confusing and inevitably kicks me out of the story. This narrative choice also didn't help further the plot, in my opinion. The synopsis led me to believe there would be more adventure and danger, but the plot read more like an overly complicated romance than the fantasy adventure the book was described as being. While I had major issues with the characters, their story, and the point of view, I did find some redeeming qualities. I enjoyed the explanations for the origins of various Halloween traditions like the jack-o'-lantern, the boogeyman, vampires, werewolves, and Headless Horseman. The Otherworld is describes in vibrant language, and I actually enjoyed the parts of the book set in this world. I may have even liked it more if the plot had lived up to the hype. Overall, The Lantern's Ember was Frankenstein's creature of steampunk, fantasy, and romance that lumbered along with sparks of brilliance but ultimately collapsed under the weight of overly complicated romantic entanglements, a shoddy plot, and questionable narrative choices.
I loved the unique twist on Sleepy Hallow and the beautiful cover, but unfortunately that's it. It was boring and dreadful. Ember was extremely juvenile and immature. I understand that she's only 17 but I was still reading her as the child she was when she first arrived there. She believed the Vampire over Jack, someone who had been watching over her for years. Jack was very one dimensional to me. I didn't believe his love for her or Ember's love for him. It was very shallow and surface level. I wanted more of the setting and the unique structure of the monsters and less of well, everything else. The whole plot of the novel is very cliche, which would not have been a problem if the characters were stronger and more unique. The background and setting of the story would've elevated the cliche plot to something exciting, but unfortunately the characters weren't there for me. At all. *Thank you to Netgalley for this review copy*
I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way, influenced my opinion below. Colleen Houck gripped me from the very beginning. This book was written very well. I was able to follow along with every character and scenery. There were many times where I felt like I was there and could understand everything she wrote about. I absolutely LOVED the plot of this book. It felt so unique and it was incredibly refreshing. To me it was a mix between Disney’s Treasure Planet, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, Halloween and Reign. A couple weeks ago I wrote about my ideal book mash ups and I couldn’t even begin to fathom this mash up. It was such a fun read and I enjoyed every word. Ember is a witch, Jack is a Lantern, Dev is a Vampire and Finnley is a human and each one of them had a vital role in the book. It could have easily been too much information but Houck was able to make it all flow really well. I will be honest, I was very worried about the romance aspect of this book because it skipped over a love triangle and went right to a “love square”. Jack, Dev and Finnley all were fighting to get Ember’s affection and she was just trying to stay alive. I don’t want to spoil the ending. This book was very easy to read. I was able to read it in less than 24 hours and I never had a problem understanding what was happening. The only problem I had with this book was how fast the ending happened. Houck spent the whole first ¾ of the book painting this amazing picture and story line and just when I was excited about it having a sequel, it wrapped up in about 2 chapters. Really Houck!? I wanted more!! That being said I am very happy with the way it ended. While it was fast, the whole story came together and it all made sense. This book had so much potential to be a series but I can understand if an author doesn’t feel connected enough to write more or felt the story needed to be over. However, this was my only negative as I could have easily read another 2-3 books about Ember and her Lantern.
The Lantern's Ember by Colleen Houck is a standalone YA fantasy novel that will get you in the mood for October and Halloween! With characters inspired by Halloween favorites like the headless horseman (Lanterns), witches, vampires, and more, this novel takes you on an adventure to the Otherworld where all the nightmarish creatures live. A quick and easy read, The Lantern's Ember is more fantasy, fairy-tale like than scary or spooky. It also has a love quadrangle amongst Ember and the three suitors vying for her affection, which you may or may not like depending on how you fee about them. I would have preferred it to only have one couple (Ember and Jack) instead of adding additional love interests. Other than that, the adventure and getting to know Ember, Jack, and why witches didn't go to the Otherwold was worth the read. Overall, The Lantern's Ember by Colleen Houck is a fun, light read and I would recommend it especially if you want to find books that will get you in the spirit of Halloween. (I voluntarily reviewed an advance review copy of this book I received for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my open and honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.)
While the book started strong and appeared to be full of spooky folklore, overall it unfortunately did not live up to my expectations as it quickly descended into drama, angst, and a predictable plot. While it is a fast read, I found the characters to be one-dimensional and mostly unlikable, lacking growth, and I was left wanting more about the characters and the world. The premise of this book is so interesting: the Otherworld is a realm where all those creatures that we thought were fictional live. Goblins, werewolves, vampires, and more are all real! The worldbuilding for tinkers and the technological advances that the Otherworld has made with the harnessing of witchlight was really interesting but I found that outside of the witchlight the worldbuilding was nonexistant. The synopsis led me to believe that Jack's past and his five hundred years of experience as a Lantern would play a bigger role than it did. I was drawn in by the idea of his role as a gatekeeper of the Otherworld, and quite frankly I am a sucker for stories that involve characters that have long lives... there is something so interesting about watching a character see cultural change and this is something that I think was definitely missing. Ember O'Dare is an orphaned witch that lives in a town near Jack's Crossroads. He's been watching her from afar ever since she was a young child, and while she hadn't seen him she always felt his presence and protection. I thought it was kind of cute how she kept trying to entice him to show himself to her, and their interactions throughout the book honestly are the only characters that I liked. I love strong female characters, but there is a fine line between strong and indignant and she gets herself into huge messes because she thinks she knows everything when she knows nothing. Like 90% of me reading this book was screaming at her being like "oh, I didn't know it was so dangerous" when she literally had been told repeatedly that it was dangerous. Ugh she frustrated me to no end. The third-person omniscient narrative style constantly shifts perspectives between the characters (often mid-page), and as a result I never really felt connected to any of the characters. I would have expected Ember and Jack to be the main characters, perhaps with dual-POV storytelling from their perspectives, but I found the narration a jumbled mess that was at times difficult to follow. The story may have been stronger with a more dedicated narrative perspective. While the book's blurb definitely is accurate, I feel that it was a bit misleading as so much of the actual narrative seemed to center around romantic feelings. There was kind of a love rectangle and it was kind of weird as none of the characters were really developed. While I am not a huge fan of the romance genre, I do not mind it as part of the story but it kind of grated my nerves - particularly Dev's character, who I found to be incredibly obsessive and possessive. All of the characters in this book were essentially the embodiment of a trope: Ember is "not like anyone else," Dev is the "Edward Cullen kind of obsessed love interest," Finney is the "guy in love with his best friend," and Jack is the "honorable love interest that wants what is best." The characters do not really act outside of their trope and are largely unchanged at the end of the book. Overall I found The Lantern's Ember to be an interesting story with a lot of promise but lacking in character development.
This book was one of my unicorn ARCs to hopefully get when I attended ALA in New Orleans this past June, because I really enjoyed her other book that I'd read in the past. Getting a hold of this one made my day. And when I finally picked it up to read, I was not disappointed! Houck has created a beautiful world, or should I say, "Otherworld", with this story. I loved how she wove in details of well-known fairy tales and legends, along with creating new background stories or even giving more life to characters only touched on with our modern day recountings of these legends and tales. Not only did we get legends and fairy tales and monsters, but actual historical events were sprinkled throughout. I always have been intrigued by the whole Roanoke Colony mystery, and we got a unique new story for that. And then there was a trip into the Salem witch trials that also got its own retelling. I mentioned that it was a beautiful world, and that was so much from the descriptions of this place, as well as the thought out mythology and unique takes on the creatures. At times it was very much like a kind of Alice in Wonderland world, but with witches and vampires and the boogeyman. Then there was Jack, a Lantern, as in Jack-o-Lantern, or even might call him the Headless Horseman. While I've read other tales that may have given you a bit of sympathy for this person, I fell in love with Jack in this book, and wished that he could actually be with his Ember, the witch who everyone seemed to be after. Another point in the book I felt as if it was reminiscent of Wizard of Oz, and I was on the edge of my seat as I read, waiting to find out who was this "man behind the curtain" going to really turn out to be. There were little clues sprinkled throughout the story, but it all went in a pretty unique way that I was kept hanging on and wondering until it was all wrapped up very neatly. A great new paranormal, fantastical fairy tale retelling that I will be recommending to customers at the store where I work, and purchasing for the students at my library.
The Lantern's Ember is a mash-up of spooky folktales, creatures, wrapped up in a steampunk setting, and a cover that promises on something dark and dangerous but fails. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing - it is just that the cover screams goth and the book is jock, you see! The story is about Ember's adventures in Otherworld, a realm that exists alongside the human one, but has all the magical creatures in it, and whose entrances are being guarded by Lanterns like Jack. For Ember, as a strong witch, it is a dangerous place to be, but throwing all caution to the wind, she does exactly that - be in Otherworld. The world-building is one of the highlights of the book, and blends various folktales and legends like the Headless Horseman, the Roanoke colony, the Boogeyman; it generously leans into the magic of these stories, and constructs a world where they coexist alongside creatures like trolls, vampires, and others. And combining the magical elements with technology has us a nice steampunk setting with modern amenities reflected in there. The Otherworld is technologically advanced, and runs on witch power, something that has been depleted since the ruler of the realm keeps taking witches to sustain himself. Ember, who has unknowingly been in hiding as Jack never reported her presence to his superiors, doesn't know the true extent of the danger to her when entering that world. And speaking of Ember, it is her stubbornness and carelessness which has her following a stranger, the vampire Dev, into a world she knows nothing about. Jack, who has sought to protect her, and has warned her from ever going there, panics and follows her, while recruiting her childhood friend and amateur engineer Finney to save her before she is noticed by the rulers. As they chase across her across the Otherworld, it becomes evident that someone had wanted her to be there. There are many secondary characters of note, and their minor storylines intersect with her journey. The twist was obvious if you think about it, and the ending was wrapped up well for this standalone, so I can say it at least was a satisfactory finish. The romance in the book is a let-down. First of all, practically everyone is falling over themselves in love with her. Jack, who has been protecting her since she was a kid, Finney who knows her since childhood and has been crushing on her, Dev, who is looking for a witch rebound from his last relationship - and every other male character who sees her, despite her saying she is plain looking (yeah, right!). There was a good attempt to give dimensions to these characters, but they are so clearly distinct tropes (especially Dev)that it got tiring very fast. Additionally, half the problems were because Ember went headfirst into any situation, thereby her having to be saved by one of her suitors, and the rest were moot because she was such a spontaneously awesome witch that it got pretty much resolved on its own. What I am saying is, the stakes were pretty low and there didn't feel like there is any true danger in this book. Overall, it is a fun adventure, but lacks depth. Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Delacorte Press, via Netgalley.
This cover is stunning, and initially what drew me to this book, and the title is very clever. Once I started reading, the world-building enchanted and intrigued me and, along with Ember, I enjoyed learning about the Otherworld, its rules, and the creatures inhabiting it. With his pumpkin and Headless Horseman comparison, Jack is my favorite character in this book, but I have to admit, Dev is one of the most charming vampires I've come across in a while. Del, Finney, Frank (you can probably guess what that's short for) - all are wonderful characters, but it took me a while to warm up to Ember - probably because of my frustration with her actions early in the book. While the world-building and characterization are strong points, the love square between Ember, Finney, Jack, and Dev grew a bit tiresome and took up a chunk of the book. I also had to backtrack numerous times when the POV changed abruptly during paragraphs - which happens a lot. With the satisfying ending, I don't see the author doing a sequel, and there's no need for one. It's nice to read a standalone in a genre with so many series. This is a perfect read to curl up with on a chilly fall evening - even better if it's closer to Halloween. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.