Fantasy Fans

SFINCS Review: Dark Heart of Ilmoure

Welcome to another review as part of the Speculative Fiction Indie Novella Championship, or SFINCS, which I am judging as part of Team Jamreads alongside a cohort of other lovely judges. For my SFINCS reviews, I will be judging each book on the following five criteria: Characters, Setting, Plot, Writing, and Enjoyment with a bonus point for Cover Art and Formatting. This review contains my honest thoughts and does not represent the opinion or final rating of the team.

This review is for Dark Heart of Ilmoure by Cara N. Delaney and is a finalist allocated to Team Jamreads for review.

Years ago, all she wanted was to leave. Now, a web of secrets might ensnare her forever.

When Iris Grey returns to her hometown of Ilmoure years after a bitter parting, she hopes for reconciliation in the face of a tragedy. Instead, she arrives to a town changed for the worse, a cold welcome from people she once loved, and a family that seems to be keeping secrets from her at every turn.

When those secrets become too heavy to ignore, Iris starts to dig deeper. What she finds leads her to question her very perception of reality. Faced with old wounds and new revelations, Iris finds herself mired in a plot that threatens to swallow herself, the town, and the people she once loved.

Find Dark Heart of Ilmoure on Goodreads

The Review

Dark Heart of Ilmoure is a standalone novel which makes a change from all the prequel novellas I’ve been reading lately, and thus I’m safe to dive into it without needing any background context. That said, this is a book about a woman whose background comes to haunt her, featuring a creepy town and a family hiding many secrets.


Our main character is Iris Grey, a woman who couldn’t stand living in their hometown and escaped to the big city, leaving behind her family and friends. This is very relatable to me, as I did the same thing! Iris is then forced to return home for a family funeral and isn’t at all comfortable with it, which is again relatable. When she returns, the family situation is tense, and she does all she can to avoid them… Until she realises some odd things are happening.

As well as being relatable, I liked Iris’s character for her determination to try to help her sister and her friend while sticking to her stubborn nature. My favourite characters are women who refuse to toe the line.

There are a range of side characters as well that don’t feel quite as fleshed out as Iris, as well as creepy family members.


The story is set in the old mining town of Ilmoure which has seen better days. Since the mine closed, many of the stores and even hotels have closed down, and the whole town is dejected. There are a few families who seem to be doing well despite this, however, and insist that everything is fine. I can completely imagine Ilmoure as a poor and dilapidated northern English coastal town because I’ve visited many. But I’m not entirely sure if it’s supposed to BE England.

There were a few things that threw me off the setting. For one, I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be set in England or America. I got both vibes from it, and it confuses me because I live near Durham in England, but I’m aware there is also a big Durham in America. Also, I had trouble placing the time period, and the book cover didn’t help me with this. The opening chapter made me picture the modern day, but there are details throughout, including the dialogue, that are more vintage. By the end of the book, I still wasn’t sure what year we were in.


I don’t read many horror stories, and I’m not sure if I would define this as a horror or a thriller, but more of a folk horror mystery that takes its time. We begin with Iris returning to her family home, and while things seem a bit strange, it wasn’t until the half-way mark that we get a big clue that something is actually wrong. From there, the mystery unravels and the true dark nature of Ilmoure is revealed. The story is quite slow paced as it drip feeds clues, but I kept reading on as I was hoping for a big payoff at the end.


The story was well written but could have been paced a bit better. The first half was quite slow and I felt like the tension build up wasn’t quite there.


I wanted to like Dark Heart of Ilmoure, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel as though the story reached a satisfying ending. There are some plot threads that are left hanging and no real conclusion or closure to the mystery. Perhaps I am simply bloodthirsty, but the reveal wasn’t as dark or shocking as I wanted it to be and I’d hoped for more. I did enjoy Iris character however and found her very relatable!

Cover Art and Formatting

I think the cover art threw me off with the time period.

Final Score: 3/5

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