Amanda Jayatissa has firmly established herself as prominent voice in South Asian popular fiction that blends horror, mythology, and mystery. Her first novel My Sweet Girl (2021) and her second You are Invited (2022) offer readers fast-paced and spine chilling thrills. Island Witch, her newest novel is set during British colonial times in Sri Lanka and once again draws on mystery, horror, and myth to draw the readers in.

In Island Witch, the protagonist is Amara, the daughter of a Capuwa or demon-priest, who is drawn into village conflict when men in the town are mysteriously and violently attacked in the jungle. People believe this is the work of an evil spirit. While it is customary for the villagers to reach out to the Capuwa to placate evil spirits, the arrival of Christianity with the advent of the British has many blaming the Capuwa for the horrific events. Amara has visions of these killings before they occur and is unable to separate vision from reality. She sets out to solve the mystery of the killings and to exonerate her father. Using her work as her mother’s assistant in a tailoring business, she begins to follow leads to unpack the mysteries.

We learn of class struggles, the tensions between Christians and non-Christians, friendship struggles between young girls, and the whole demonology that shapes peoples’ thinking. When her father is attacked by the demon, Amara believes it to be evidence that exonerates him but is unable to convince many in the village. In the meantime, her new friend Bhagya offers her comfort, and she also finds solace in her budding romance with Raam, a boy from her school. As the narrative unfolds, we see greater blurring between Amara’s everyday life and her fantasies and visions. From a psychological perspective, one could read Amara’s narrative as one that maps a psychotic break. Eventually, the mystery is resolved using mythology about women’s power and rage.

The narrative is engaging and although set in colonial times, it is not a historical novel — the British are a shadowy presence in the novel and the emphasis is on village lore and mythology. The characters are engaging, and the mysterious and violent murders draw the reader in. However, if you are a seasoned reader of mystery novels of the psychological horror kind, then you will have figured out the plot way before the phenomenally naïve protagonist Amara. The novel could have used some editing as the middle section flags and feels somewhat repetitive and tedious. Still, if you are looking for psychological horror fiction with an exotic setting, this book will be worth a read.   

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