In the Hour of Crows by Dana Elmendorf

Posted 8 June, 2024 by Heather in Audiobook, Blog, Blog Tour, Book Excerpt, Book Review, Heather, Heather Book Review / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from the Publisher, Spotify Premium in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In the Hour of Crows by Dana ElmendorfIn the Hour of Crows by Dana Elmendorf
Published by Harlequin, MIRA on June 4, 2024
Genres: Fiction / Magical Realism, Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Historical, Fiction / Southern
Pages: 288
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Source: Publisher, Spotify Premium
Buy on Amazon
5 Stars

An engrossing and atmospheric debut that follows young Weatherly Wilder as she uses her unique gift to solve her cousin’s mysterious murder and prove her own innocence, set in the beautiful wilds of Appalachia and imbued with magic realism.

In a small town in rural Georgia, Appalachian roots and traditions still run deep. Folks paint their houses blue to keep the spirits way. Black ferns grow, it’s said, where death will follow. And Weatherly Wilder’s grandmother is a local Granny Witch, relied on for help delivering babies, making herbal remedies, tending to the sick—and sometimes serving up a fatal dose of revenge when she deems it worthy. Hyper-religious, she rules Weatherly with an iron fist; because Weatherly has a rare and covetable gift: she’s a Death Talker. Weatherly, when called upon, can talk the death out of the dying; only once, never twice. But in her short twenty years on this Earth this gift has taken a toll, rooting her to the small town that only wants her around when they need her and resents her backwater ways when they don’t—and how could she ever leave, if it meant someone could die while she was gone?

Weatherly’s best friend and cousin, Adaire, also has a gift: she’s a Scryer; she can see the future reflected back in a dark surface, usually her scrying pan. Right before she’s hit and in a bicycle accident, Adaire saw something unnerving in the pan, that much Weatherly knows, and she is certain this is why the mayor killed her cousin—she doesn’t believe for a moment that it was an accident. But when the mayor’s son lays dying and Weatherly, for the first time, is unable to talk the death of him, the whole town suspects she was out for revenge, that she wouldn’t save him. Weatherly, with the help of Adaire’s spirit, sets out to prove her own innocence and find Adaire’s killer, no matter what it takes.

For my next book on HTP Books’ Summer 2024 Blog Tours, I listened to In the Hour of Crows by Dana Elmendorf. This book perfectly blends small-town life with magical realism, and I fell in love with this book and it’s characters within a few minutes of hitting play.


I was born in the woods in the hour of crows, when the day is no longer but the night is not yet. Grandmama Agnes brought me into this world with her bare hands. Just as her mother had taught her to do. Just as the mother before her taught. Just as she would teach me. Midwife, herbalist, superstitionist—all the practices of her Appalachian roots passed down for generations.

And a few new tricks picked up along the way.

Before Papaw died, he warned me Grandmama Agnes was wicked. He was wrong. It wasn’t just Grandmama who was wicked; so was I.

I knew it was true the night those twin babies died.

“Weatherly,” Grandmama’s sleep-weary voice woke me that night long ago. “Get your clothes on. Don’t forget your drawers.”

My Winnie the Pooh nightgown, ragged and thin, was something pillaged from the free-clothes bin at church. Laundry was hard to do often when water came from a well and washing powders cost money. So we saved our underwear for the daytime.

My ten-year-old bones ached from the death I talked out of the Bodine sisters earlier that day, the mucus still lodged in my throat. I barked a wet cough to bring it up.

“Here.” Grandmama handed me a blue perfume bottle with a stopper that did not match. I spat the death inside the bottle like always. The thick ooze slipped down the curved lip and blobbed at the bottom. A black dollop ready for someone else to swallow.

It smelled of rotting flesh and tasted like fear.

Sin Eater Oil, Grandmama called it, was like a truth serum for the soul. A few drops baked into a pie, you could find out if your neighbor stole your garden vegetables. Mixed with certain herbs, it enhanced their potency and enlivened the superstitious charms from Grandmama’s magic recipe box.

On a few occasions—no more than a handful of times—when consumed in full, its power was lethal.

Out in front of our cabin sat a shiny new Corvette with hubcaps that shimmered in the moonlight. Pacing on the porch, a shadow of a man. It wasn’t until he stepped into the light did I catch his face. Stone Rutledge. He was taller and thinner and snakier back then.

Bone Layer, a large hardened man who got his name from digging graves for the cemetery, dropped a pine box no longer than me into the back of our truck. He drove us everywhere we needed to be—seeing how Grandmama couldn’t see too good and I was only ten. The three of us followed Stone as his low-slung car dragged and scrapped the dirt road to a farmhouse deep in the woods.

An oil-lit lamp flickered inside. Cries of a woman in labor pushed out into the humid night. Georgia’s summer air was always thick. Suffocating, unbearable nights teeming with insects hell-bent on fighting porch lights.

A woman at the edge of panic for being left in charge greeted us at the door. Pearls draped her neck. Polish shined her perfect nails as she pulled and worked the strand. Her heels click-clacked as she paced the linoleum floor.

Grandmama didn’t bother with pleasantries. She shoved on past with her asphidity bag full of her herbs and midwife supplies and my Sin Eater Oil and went straight for the woman who was screaming. Bone Layer grabbed his shovel and disappeared into the woods.

In the house, I gathered the sheets and the clean towels and boiled the water. I’d never seen this kitchen before, but most things can be found in just about the same place as any other home.

“Why is that child here?” the rich woman, not too good at whispering, asked Stone. Her frightened eyes watched as I tasked out my duties.

“Doing her job. Drink this.” Stone shoved a glass of whiskey at her. She knocked it back with a swift tilt of her head, like tossing medicine down her throat, and handed back the glass for another.

Tiptoeing into the bedroom, I quietly poured the steaming water into the washbasin. The drugged moans of the lady spilled to the floor like a sad melody. A breeze snuck in through the inch of open window and licked the gauzy curtain that draped the bed.

When I turned to hand Grandmama the towels, I eyed the slick black blood that dripped down the sheets.

We weren’t here for a birthing.

We were called to assist with a misbirth.

Fear iced over me when I looked upon the mother.

Then, I saw on the dresser next to where Grandmama stood, two tiny swaddles, unmoving. A potato box sat on the floor. Grandmama slowly turned around at the sound of my sobbing—I hadn’t realized I’d started to cry. Her milky white eyes found mine like always, despite her part-blindness.

Swift and sharp she snatched me by my elbow. Her fingers dug into my flesh as she ushered me over to the dresser to see what I had caused.

“You’ve soured their souls,” she said in a low growl. I looked away, not wanting to see their underdeveloped bodies. Her bony hand grabbed my face. Her grip crushing my jaw as she forced me to look upon them. Black veins of my Sin Eater Oil streaked across their gnarled lifeless bodies. “This is your doing, child. There’ll be a price to pay for y’all going behind my back.” For me, and Aunt Violet.

Aunt Violet took some of my Sin Eater Oil weeks ago. I assumed it was for an ailing grandparent who was ready for Jesus; she never said who. She said not to tell. She said Grandmama wouldn’t even notice it was missing.

So I kept quiet. Told the thing in my gut that said it was wrong to shut up. But she gave my Sin Eater Oil to the woman writhing in pain in front of me, so she could kill her babies. Shame welled up inside me.

Desperately, I looked up to Grandmama. “Don’t let the Devil take me.”

Grandmama beamed, pleased with my fear. “There’s only one way to protect you, child.” The glint in her eyes sent a chill up my spine.

No. I shook my head. Not that—her promise of punishment, if ever I misused my gift. Tears slivered down my cheeks.

“It wasn’t me!” I choked out, but she only shook her head.

“We must cleanse your soul from this sin and free you from the Devil’s grasp. You must atone.” Grandmama rummaged through her bag and drew out two items: the match hissed to life as she set fire to a single crow claw. I closed my eyes and turned away, unable to watch. That didn’t stop me from knowing.

The mother’s head lolled over at the sound of my crying. Her red-rimmed eyes gazed my way. “You!” she snarled sloppily at me. Her hair, wild, stuck to the sweat on her face. The black veins of my Sin Eater Oil spiderwebbed across her belly, a permanent tattoo that matched that of her babies. “The Devil’s Seed Child,” the lady slurred from her vicious mouth. The breeze whipped the curtains in anger. Oh, that hate in her eyes. Hate for me.

Grandmama shoved me into the hall, where I was to stay put. The rich woman pushed in. The door opened once more, and that wooden potato box slid out.

The mother wailed as the rich lady cooed promises that things would be better someday. The door closed tight behind us, cries echoing off the walls.

I shared the dark with the slit of the light and wondered if she’d ever get her someday.

Quick as lightning, my eyes flitted to the box, then back to the ugly wallpaper dating the hallway. My curiosity poked me. It gnawed until I peeked inside.

There on their tiny bodies, the mark of a sinner. A crow’s claw burned on their chest. Same as the Death Talker birthmark over my heart. Grandmama branded them so Jesus would know I was to blame.

That woman was right—I was the Devil’s Seed Child.

So I ran.

I ran out the door and down the road.

I ran until my feet grew sore and then ran some more.

I ran until the salt dried on my face and the tears stopped coming.

I was rotten, always rotten. As long as my body made the Sin Eater Oil, I’d always be rotten. Exhausted, I fell to my knees. From my pocket, I pulled out the raggedy crow feather I now kept with me. I curled up on the side of the road between a tree and a stump, praying my wishes onto that feather.

Devil’s Seed Child, I whispered, and repeated in my mind.

It was comforting to own it, what I was. The rightful name for someone who could kill the most innocent among us.

I blew my wish on the feather and set it free in the wind.

A tiny object tumbled in front of my face. Shiny as the hubcaps on Stone’s car. A small gold ring with something scrolled on the flat front. I quirked my head sideways to straighten my view. A fancy script initial R.

“Don’t cry,” a young voice spoke. Perched on the rotting stump above, a boy, just a pinch older than I. Shorn dark hair and clothes of all black.

I smiled up at him, a thank-you for the gift.

“Weatherly!” A loud bark that could scare the night caused me to jump. Bone Layer had a voice that did that to people, though he didn’t use it often.

Over my head, a black wisp flew toward the star-filled sky, and the boy was gone. I snatched up the ring and buried it in my pocket as Bone Layer came to retrieve me. He scooped me up as easy as a doll. His shirt smelled of sweat and earth and bad things to come.

Grandmama’s punishment was meant to save me; I leaned into that comfort. Through the Lord’s work, she’d keep me safe. Protect me. If I strayed from her, I might lose my soul.

Grandmama was right; I must atone.

The truck headlights pierced the woods as Bone Layer walked deeper within them. Grandmama waited at the hole in the ground with the Bible in her hand and the potato box at her feet.

Stone and the rich woman watched curiously as they ushered the mother into their car. The wind howled through the trees. They exchanged horrid looks and hurried words, then fled back into the house, quick as thieves.

Bone Layer gently laid me in the pine box already lowered into the shallow hole he done dug. Deep enough to cover, not enough for forever.

“Will they go to Heaven?” I asked from the coffin, as Grandmama handed me one bundle, then the other. I nestled them into my chest. I had never seen something so little. Light as air in my arms. Tiny things. Things that never had a chance in this world. They smelled sickly sweet; a scent that made me want to retch.

Grandmama tucked my little Bible between my hands. I loved that Bible. Pale blue with crinkles in the spine from so much discovery. On the front, a picture of Jesus, telling a story to two little kids.

“Will they go to Heaven?” I asked again, panicked when she didn’t answer. Fear rose up in my throat, and I choked on my tears. Fear I would be held responsible if their souls were not saved.

Grandmama’s face was flat as she spoke the heartless truth. “They are born from sin, just like you. They were not wanted. They are not loved.” Her words stung like always.

“What if I love them? Will they go to Heaven if I love them?”

Her wrinkled lips tightened across her yellow and cracked teeth, insidious. “You must atone,” she answered instead. Then smiled, not with empathy but with pleasure; she was happy to deliver this punishment, glad of the chance to remind me of her power.

“I love them, Grandmama. I love them,” I professed with fierceness. I hoped it would be enough. To save their souls. To save my own. “I love them, Grandmama,” I proclaimed with all my earnest heart. To prove it, I smothered the tops of their heads with kisses. “I love them, Grandmama.” I kept repeating this. Kept kissing them as Bone Layer grabbed the lid to my pine box. He held it in his large hands, waiting for Grandmama to move out of his way.

“You believe me, don’t you?” I asked her. Fear and prayer filled every ounce of my body. If I loved them enough, they’d go to Heaven. If I atoned, maybe I would, too. I squeezed my eyes tight and swore my love over and over and over.

She frowned down on me. “I believe you, child. For sin always enjoys its own company.”

She promptly stood. Her black dress swished across the ground as she moved out of the way. Then Bone Layer shut out the light, fastening the lid to my box.

Muffled sounds of dirt scattered across the top as he buried me alive.


Excerpted from IN THE HOUR OF CROWS by Dana Elmendorf. Copyright © 2024 by Dana Elmendorf. Published by MIRA Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.


My Thoughts:

In the Hour of Crows is a title that evokes mystery, magic, and the delicate balance between life and death. Dana Elmendorf’s debut novel invites us into the heart of rural Georgia, where Appalachian roots intertwine with ancient traditions. In this engrossing and atmospheric tale, young Weatherly Wilder grapples with her unique gift—a rare ability to talk the death out of the dying, but only once. When her cousin is murdered, Weatherly becomes entangled in a web of secrets, revenge, and her own innocence. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful forests of Appalachia, this novel blends magical realism with suspense, promising a journey that transcends realms and leaves us questioning what it truly means to be alive.

Weatherly Wilder has a gift that is passed down, only to someone of the opposite sex when the holder willingly gives it up. Her grandfather handed the fit of being a Death Talker to his granddaughter, and she now has the ability to bring a person back to life–but only one time. But living under the thumb of her domineering small town witch grandmother since she was a baby, her only bright spots in life are with her cousin Adaire and the few friends she loves and trusts. When Adaire is the victim of a hit and run while riding her bicycle, Weatherly will stop at nothing to find out who murdered her best friend, even when grief threatens to swallow her whole. Once she realizes that there are some people she can’t save, the danger increases as she gets closer to the truth about her past and what her future may bring.


I give In the Hour of Crows a five out of five. This book spoke to me immediately based on my experiences–small town where everyone knows you and what you’re doing, complicated family ties, hushed relationships that no one knows about until much later. Told in the present day as well as through flashbacks, Dana Elmendorf’s writing paints a beautiful picture of Weatherly’s stark reality and the various people around her–both friends and foes. The audiobook was so engrossing that I listened to it all in one day. All of the characters were so real and lively, especially the grandmother, and there was so much growth throughout the book for Weatherly. Full of moody, atmospheric scenes, family drama, magic mixed with religion, and an amplifying sense of dread and danger throughout, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves southern gothic novels and magical realism.



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About Dana Elmendorf

Dana Elmendorf was born and raised in small town in Tennessee. She now lives in Southern California with her husband, two boys and two dogs. When she isn’t exercising, she can be found geeking out with Mother Nature. After four years of college and an assortment of jobs, she wrote a contemporary YA novel. This is her adult debut.

Find Dana Elmendorf

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads


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I'm a PhD chemist who loves sarcasm, music, and books-paranormal, mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, and romance. Most of my free time is spent at the martial arts studio these days--whether practicing Combat Hapkido or reading books while watching my son's Taekwondo classes, or even working up a sweat with Kickboxing for fun. Goodreads

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