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Michael Lightsey
Hecate's Labyrinth
It begins with the kidnapping of a young witch. But Helena's no ordinary witch — she's the Russian president's daughter. Dimitri, the Georgian soldier who abducted her, has only one thing on his mind — end the war between Russia and Georgia, even if it means using his lover as leverage. And his desperate plan just might've worked if the witchcraft goddess hadn't sent them through a time portal to battle with a medieval nightmare god. HECATE'S LABYRINTH is a kaleidoscopic tale of star-crossed lovers who venture through mythology and history to unravel a spine-chilling mystery and save their world from annihilation.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.75 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Hecate's Labyrinth is a high-octane fantasy mystery which traverses history and mythology. The plot is adrenaline-fueled, fantastical, and enormous fun.

Prose: Lightsey's text is passionately written and moves at an electrifying pace. The foul-mouthed characters of Hecate's Labyrinth enliven the text in an often invigorating read which confidently blends folklore and mysticism.

Originality: On the surface, Hecate's Labyrinth is a fairly typical fantasy tale, but is written with such vim and conviction, that it is very hard to ignore. A must for lovers of fantasy fiction, Hecate's Labyrinth is full of interesting and enlightening ideas.

Character/Execution: Lightsey's central relationship between Dmitri and Helena is intriguing and the supporting characters are impressively woven into the story. His dialogue is regularly sharp, witty, and of course, delightfully full of expletives.

Blurb: A rip-roaring fantasy adventure.

Date Submitted: April 10, 2024

Lightsey’s ambitious debut, the enchanted story of a modern Russian witch whisked back in time to battle a demon, is rich in historical fact, folklore, and occult references from diverse cultures. As the countries of Georgia and Russia are at war, 19-year-old witch Helena is kidnapped by a masked Georgian soldier that she suspects is her boyfriend Dimitri. When her captor’s boat capsizes, Helena plunges into the water but wakes up in 1361, in the famed Sarkel Fortress, near the river Helena thinks of as the Don. There she meets Arabic poet Nizami, Jewish priestess Tatyana, Saint Bishop Alexius, and Nastasya, who pines for her lover Myshkin. A literature enthusiast, Helena recognizes them as historical characters from famous novels and poetry, while they declare that she must be the mystical Essenoi reborn who must defeat Icelos, the ancient nightmare god who is causing famine and disease.

The stakes: “War will be upon us if we do not stop Icelos.” Lightsey deftly intermingles an assortment of world religions, ethnicities, mystical symbols, folklore, and ancient wisdom from Celtic, Hindu, Christian, and Mesopotamian, along with literary references from Dostoevsky to the I Ching—enough so that even dedicated readers of folklore and ancient religions will be Googling the many symbols, languages, and personages that pepper this multilayered journey. But the quest itself is engaging and exciting, and Helena is a rousing hero, armed with wonders like a staff topped with the Strophalos, the symbol of the labyrinth of truth, plus Hecate’s magic mirror, and an infinite bag of holding.

Helena is accompanied by bickering, bumbling thieves Catiana and Dogett, who can find the Fortress of Caffa, Icelos’s lair. The first stop on their quest is a visit with the volatile ancient witch Baba Yaga, who poses riddles in a tense standout of a scene. Helena is a gritty, whip-smart leader who accepts her mission with attitude, grace, and exuberance. There is plenty here for readers who enjoy mystical adventures blended with historical details.

Takeaway: This impressive magical quest blends mysticism gleaned from folklore and history.

Comparable Titles: Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, Olesya Salnikova Gilmore’s The Witch and the Tsar.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-

Independent Book Review

"An eclectic web of ideas come together to take a Russian witch on a transformational journey in this unique fantasy novel. Anticipate philosophical debates, mythological references, and the occasional but necessary bit of comic relief in this labyrinthine fantasy. With an ending that is sure to stick around, Hecate's Labyrinth is a book that readers will remember." 

- Jaylynn Korrell, Independent Book Review

Kirkus Reviews

"A sensational cast fuels this exuberant tale that baffles as often as it charms. The narrative includes such reliably entertaining genre trademarks as a well-defined quest and fantastical creatures. The sublime ending, though open to interpretation, provides readers with welcome illumination. Our verdict... get it."

- Kirkus Reviews

Readers' Favorite

"A fantastical odyssey that traverses a fine line between the surreal and tangible, Hecate's Labyrinth is a treat for fantasy lovers. Lightsey borrows elements from a lot of different cultures, including Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Indian, to tell a story rich in philosophical discourse, mythology, and fantastical lore. I thoroughly enjoyed Hecate's Labyrinth and recommend it to readers of both fantasy and romance." 

- Pikasho Deka, Readers' Favorite