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Karolina Wilde
House of Pain
A group of students at a prestigious witchcraft university decides to summon a magical guardian to help them win the deadly Game that takes place every year. When the spell goes wrong, and a demon shows up instead of a magical guardian, the group has to navigate the difficult politics of their House, while students from other Houses are gearing up to win the Game and take their group down by targeting the weakest member -- a half-witch, Alecto Black.
Wilde’s polished debut, a dishy gothic fantasy page-turner, grabs from the start with sharp prose, weird magic, cutting remarks, a frank and buoyant sex-positive outlook, and a creepily enticing summoning ritual certain to lead to unexpected consequences. Set in a hothouse magic school where horned-up students enjoy public sex, discussing their professors’ endowment, and competing in a high-stakes campus-wide Game, House of Pain centers on Alecto, a half-witch of less power than the purebloods and legacies surrounding her at Venefica Academy, where she’s a second year student in the Inner Circle of the House of Snakes, taking classes like “History of the Sexuality of Witches” and being targeted for humiliation by handsome blackguards like Blaze.

This inventive school, alive with engaging students and rampant talk of sex and blood magic, will delight readers looking for a boldy uncensored take on fantasy mainstay while likely singeing the ears of readers who aren’t. To secure an advantage against the other houses in the Game, the Snakes witches perform a summoning ritual, calling forth what they hope will be a gorgeous “guardian” free of the character flaws of the likes of Blaze. It’s a laugh-out-loud moment, then, several chapters later, when an impossibly alluring newcomer turns up in one of Alecto’s classes. His name: Rogue Smolder. He’s a demon—and he’s Alecto’s new study partner.

Sexy, funny, fast-paced, and committed to jolting genre expectations, this first book in Wilde’s projected trilogy is decidedly not for everyone, but readers on its wavelength will savor it and impatiently wait for more. For all the adult and even satirical elements, the story itself—especially a surprising slow burn romance—is heartfelt and exciting, and Wilde proves deft at plotting out twists, reversals, betrayals, and revelations that honor the beloved magic and prep school stories that House of Pain both celebrates and interrogates. There’s detentions, memory orbs, and forces beyond everyone’s control—including lust.

Takeaway:This dishy, sex-positive magic school fantasy/romance will dazzle the readers on its wavelength.

Great for fans of: Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti’s Zodiac Academy series, Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House.

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