review // Mayhem by Estelle Laure

cover artist: Nicole Rifkin // cover designer: Kerri Resnick

I received an e-arc from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.

triggers: abuse, rape (mentioned), death of a spouse, the ocean/bodies of water, suicide, grief, drug use & withdrawal

I read Mayhem by Estelle Laure the summer of 2020, around two full seasons before I finally got around to writing this review. I have pages and pages of notes, and I remember the plot more than I should for a book I ultimately didn’t care for. And yet. Here we are.

Mayhem is a book I was set up to love. It is girl-centric, focused on messed up family relationships, and has a weird soft magical element. Our titular character moves back to her mother’s home town after the two escape an abusive household, and she is quickly pulled into some magical vigilantism.

I have a few different issues with the book.

My first is that I felt like the book was shaming me. It is a book that is set up like a revenge story. It is about vigilantes who get powers from magical water hunting down a man who is killing teen girls on the beach. It is a book that is, inevitably, going to draw in people who are looking for the catharsis of stories like that. Instead, what we got was moralizing that essentially condemned that need, that power fantasy that many people have.

In all honesty, this is a my biggest issue. With anything else, I might look past it. I might move on with my day and give this book a 3-star and a quick mini review. But, to me, this completely ruined the book for me. I wanted revenge and a reclamation of power. Mayhem simply did not deliver that. Instead, it felt like it was condemning me for wanting that. It was not an enjoyable experience for me and is 100% what has kept me from recommending this book.

Another issue I had is with the magic itself. The magic is passed down to the women of this one family. They get it from drinking magical water from this cave-type thing. This isn’t really an issue. I do not care that much. However, it is revealed that people who are not blood-related can drink the water and get the powers. Which I thought was fun, and it did get rid of some of my initial issues with the idea in general. Later on, though, it is revealed that the non-blood relatives, Neve’s adopted kids, are being twisted by the water and are losing themselves in a way that Mayhem never will and that Mayhem, because she is a blood relative, has stronger powers.

That’s eugenics, folks. The idea that someone is better because of a genetic difference, because of something unchangeable (science nerds, do not correct me in the comments. I know whatever you are going to say and I do not care), that is very close to the rhetoric of eugenics. It’s something that is simply baked into media. From Sky High to Wonder Woman (yes, I watch Jack Saint videos), it is not something you will have to search high and low for to find. It’s still something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable and especially because of how common it, I will always try to point it out when I see it.

On the more technical end, the plot was a bit rough. As engrossing as it was, there was far too much going on. There was the romance, the stuff with the murderer, the aftermath of the abuse, family drama, and then the discovery of the magic. It was all just a bit much, and after the murder of the murderer, the entire thing simply felt incredibly muddled and lost my interesting almost entirely.

It isn’t all bad. I loved the characters. Their characterization and arcs were so strong and well handled (with the exception of Neve, one of the adopted cousins), and I loved them all. And like I said above, I really enjoyed the plot for the most part. But none of that was enough for me to feel anything other than steadily increasing contempt for it.

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