Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

I’m gonna come right out and say that I’m a fan of Peggy Riley. She’s lovely on Twitter, very approachable and a terrific writer to boot. Amity & Sorrow is the début novel from Riley and one of the first books to launch the new imprint of Headline – Tinder Press. I have to think that if this is the opener for both author and imprint, then the future seems bright for each.

What Riley does best is create a world that feels utterly oppressive, even to an outsider, onlooker or reader. The novel is based around a mother and her two daughters as they escape from life within a religious cult. Having driven across country for four days they end up on the farmland of Brad who allows them to stay despite the aura surrounding the three women.

Despite the fact that the book isn’t really any kind of thriller or mystery, to delve into the plot too much would uncover intricacies that are best discovered naturally. Many of these revolve around the titular sisters – Amity and Sorrow. Riley falls back on a traditional good vs bad with the sisters but enhances it with some truly disturbing ideas. There is always a sense of danger lingering alongside the tense undercurrent.

It’s the central premise of the novel that sets the reader on edge as Riley explores themes and ideas rarely touched upon in fiction. The mother, Amaranth, is ultimately running from her actions. As the first of fifty wives to a man who she helped establish a religious cult. The ideals in which the cult believes are harrowing to an outsider and Peggy does her utmost to make you a fly on the wall, particularly within the flashback scenes. It’s apparent that the author wants the audience to feel outrage and disgust, but the characters actions and thoughts never feel contrived or forced for the sake of shock.

On the flipside of this repressive feeling there is some hope and lightness – even a tenderness. The performance moves through both dark and light acts before it ends in a shocking finale that leaves readers questioning certain aspects but pleasantly fulfilled with the outcome.

This is an impressive début and one whose plot will linger for days after the book is placed on the bookcase. Not only am I eager to read Peggy’s follow up (I need it now!) but I’m very excited by the future of Tinder Press.

Published by Tinder Press. This book was kindly sent by the publisher for review.

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