Review: When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen

Summary: More than a decade ago, Mira fled her small, segregated hometown in the south to forget. With every mile she traveled, she distanced herself from her past: from her best friend Celine; from the eerie Woodsman plantation rumored to be haunted by the spirits of slaves; from the terrifying memory of a ghost she saw hen a dare-gone-wrong almost got Jesse—the boy she secretly loved—arrested for murder.

Now Mira is back in Kipsen to attend Celine’s wedding at the plantation, which has been transformed into a lush vacation resort. But for all its fancy renovations, the Woodsman remains a monument to its oppressive racist history. Yet the darkest elements of the plantation’s past have been carefully erased—rumors that ghosts roam the lands, seeking vengeance on the descendants of those who tormented them, which includes most of the wedding guests. As the weekend unfolds, Mira, Jesse, and Celine are forced to acknowledge their history together, and to save themselves from what is to come.

Genre: Horror, thriller
Rating: ★★★★★

When the Reckoning Comes is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I spent a lot of time ruminating on what I’d just read when I finished this story, because the truth is that this book made me incredibly uncomfortable, angry, and heartbroken. This was an amazing book, but the content is so heavy-hitting, and it just left me feeling raw in the aftermath.

There are a handful of different stories that this book follows. The first is of Mira’s childhood with her friends, Celine and Jesse. After a prank that almost got Jesse arrested, the trio gradually dissolved. There are flashbacks throughout the book to Mira’s memories that give the reader an understanding of the dynamic of their friendship. The second story is in present day, where Mira reluctantly agrees to attend Celine’s wedding, which is being held at an old, rumored-to-be-haunted plantation. The third story is snuck in between chapters and gives us the voice of the slaves that were tortured and murdered at the plantation. All of these stories are interwoven beautifully and connect to tell a haunting tale.

While it’s marketed as a horror novel, a majority of the real horror in this story is the cruelty and torture that the slaves endured. There are some paranormal elements here, but it reminded me a lot of The Hunger by Alma Katsu in that this is largely historically-accurate fiction of an already terrifying real-life story with an extra level of fright to top it off.

And honestly, I loved it. The idea of slaves haunting an old plantation and coming after white people to get revenge and wreak havoc on them for what their ancestors did to them is a genius idea. I enjoyed watching it play out, especially because the white characters in this book were written so well that it was almost too easy to hate them. I had zero sympathy or remorse for any of them and was happy to see them tarnish.

There were a lot of underlying social justice tones littered throughout the story as well. One white character is overheard saying it isn’t their fault that their ancestors had slaves, completely ignoring that they are continuing to uphold institutional racism by extension. There’s also the fact that the newly renovated plantation reads more like an amusement park than anything. The bar serves antebellum drinks. The “entertainment” are disgusting reenactments. And to top it off, the service staff is nearly all Black.

It’s discussed in the story how the town is dying, and the plantation opened up a lot of job opportunities for people. However, a majority of the people depending on the plantation to create jobs are the poor ones, who are, uncoincidentally, Black. The white people in this book are all snooty, wealthy, upper class people who view the plantation as a fun family vacation, who fail to understand the dark history of the site.

I feel like this book had everything. It was incredibly educational, both in social issues and in our country’s history. I loved the correlation between present day and past tense. Mira was a strong, smart, level-headed leading character who I enjoyed rooting for the entire time. There’s just a hint of a romance and it certainly had some tense, mysterious moments, but the real story was about Mira unlocking the hidden truth about what really happened on the plantation.

This story made me feel so many different emotions. I took some time after finishing this book to gather my thoughts and settle down, but the truth is that even hours later, it’s left me feeling the same way it did while I was reading. This is such a beautifully-written, unfortunate, haunting story that sunk its claws into me and won’t let go.

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