Book Review: The Burning of Isobel Key by Jen McConnel

  • Review: The Burning of Isobel Key
  • Series: —
  • Author: Jen McConnel
  • No of Pages: 288
  • Release Date: Published September 14th 2012 by BrightFish Press


Lou is in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. Ever since college, she’s lacked direction, working as a clerk in a local bookstore. But when she quits her job just before the winter holidays, Lou must do some serious soul searching to overcome her fears of straying from the mainstream. On a whim, she accompanies her best friend, Tammy, to Scotland for the winter holidays, but the vacation soon turns into an emotional roller coaster.

When she becomes embroiled in a hunt for information about Isobel Key, a woman falsely accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century, Lou opens up to her intuition and makes a startling discovery about her own heritage.


As the flames rose, Isobel stopped cursing and instead started to make a shrill, screaming whine, much like the sound of the sap boiling in the logs at her feet.  It was so eerie, so utterly un-human that even the executioner, a man long seasoned to the sounds of death, wanted to cover his ears and sob into the skirt of the nearest woman.

The sound carried from the village green, through the streets and wynds, penetrating the windows and doors shut tight against the execution.  It was as if not attending could erase the sin of allowing it to happen in the first place.  No one who heard that sound could reconcile it with the once melodious voice of the burning woman.  The evil thing at the stake was not a woman they remembered or recognized.

Their memories were as short as the day, from the morning after her terrible deeds were revealed and the witch was brought into town bound in the back of a pony cart.  It was suddenly as if none of the villagers knew the poor creature at all.  None could recall seeking her help, and none would avow that she had always been kind and ready to bake breads for town feasts or to watch the little ones play while their parents danced together.  Kindness lingers less than murder, for it was obvious to all that the woman had murdered at least three souls, if not countless others.  Justice was being served, and her blood would not stain the god fearing hands in St. Andrews.  She was not their responsibility, and they wanted to take no claim for her evil.

My thoughts:

I have to admit, I started reading this, getting into the characters not thinking a thing about the title, and then it hit me! This girl you’re getting to know is the girl that is going to be burned! I wanted to put the book down straight away!!! But it was so compelling, her story drove me on, hoping against hope for a better outcome. But the interesting part of it all was that although you’re getting to know Isobel who lived back in 1667, you’re also getting to know Louisa, who lives in the present day and how their lives collide.

Most of the story is about Louisa with some peppered in chapters on Isobel. It’s never difficult to understand who you are reading about. You know immediately firstly because of the chapter titles but also because each girl is totally different. I loved the yin/yang portion of this although I wanted more and more about each and Jen McConnel just gives you enough and then switches! It was maddening but brilliant!

Isobel is a lovely person who cares about people but sadly something happens early in her life, or late if you’re back in the 1600’s, that makes her sort of swear off men. Now imagine, a twenty five year old living alone in a cottage, five miles outside of town. People are going to talk. It may not be straight away but I knew it was coming sooner or later, I just didn’t know how. What I didn’t like about this portion of the story was what happens between the sisters. It doesn’t make sense to me that they are so close but Margaret would choose to hurt Isobel. It just doesn’t completely mesh for me.

Louisa is also a bit of an introvert. She hasn’t dated in years, since her last relationship, and doesn’t plan to but her friend Tammy keeps pushing her to do just that. Tammy as you can probably imagine, is quite the opposite of Louisa which didn’t bother me until Tammy starts pushing religion onto Lou. It’s VERY frustrating to say the least. Again, it didn’t totally mesh. Why would someone be so unwilling to believe in the occult (tarot readings, scrying, etc) because she’s a Christian and yet she’s totally willing to sleep with guys. A little bit of an annoyance for me, but something that didn’t totally distract from the story. I just wanted Lou to tell her to shove it! But being a good friend Lou keeps her feelings to herself and keeps quiet, most of the time.

Although Tammy distracted me a little, the rest of the story was amazing. Louisa finding out about Isobel was interesting and from there on the story just got better and better. Both Louisa and Isobel are strong women and they are wonderful to read about. The ending was exactly what I was looking for. Honestly I was quite worried about how this was going to end and there was something missing until, quite literally, the last sentence but Jen McConnel brings everything together wonderfully!

This was a book I could not put down and although I am a huge fan of the paranormal and historical fiction, this was something a bit different from the normal read. It was intriguing and keeps you wondering what is going to happen, even after you put together that one of the main characters is definitely going to be burned to death. It’s the story of how Isobel got there that kept me wanting to continue, and the story about how Louisa decided to finally start making decisions for herself! Fabulous read!

More exciting is the news that the sequel to this, The Key Inheritance, is scheduled to be published January 15th!!! Nearly in time for my birthday! I can’t wait to see what Louisa has gotten herself up to!

About the author:

Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. Since then, her words have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals, including Sagewoman, PanGaia, and The Storyteller (where she won the people’s choice 3rd place award for her poem, “Luna”).
She is also an active reviewer for Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and proud member of SCBWI, NCWN, and SCWW.
A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. When she isn’t crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches writing composition at a community college. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.

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You may also enjoy:

Book Review: Blood Debt by Nancy Straight

Book Review: The Dark Gifts: Birthright by Willow Cross

Book Review: The Messenger by Pamela Dumond


  1. Thanks so much for profiling the book today! I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

    1. My pleasure!! I can NOT wait for book two to come out! Very excited!

  2. Sounds great, Jen. Can’t wait to read it.

    1. Totally is great!! If you like witches, this is a MUST read 😀 so fun!

  3. […] I am soooo excited about this book!! The cover is awesome and although you may not know it if you haven’t read book one, there’s probably a bit of eeriness that is shining through. If it’s anything like book one, which had quite a bit of eeriness, it’ll be a fantastic read! I can not wait to get my hands on this baby! If you haven’t read book one, , take a look at my book review for The Burning of Isobel Key. […]

  4. […] I am soooo excited about this book!! The cover is awesome and although you may not know it if you haven’t read book one, there’s probably a bit of eeriness that is shining through. If it’s anything like book one, which had quite a bit of eeriness, it’ll be a fantastic read! I can not wait to get my hands on this baby! If you haven’t read book one, , take a look at my book review for The Burning of Isobel Key. […]

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