Lion’s Den: Witchfinder 2

RW provides a second review of WITCHFINDER, by Sarah Hoyt:

3 parts Fantasy
2 parts Fairy Tale
1 splash of Science Fiction
1 dash of Mythology

Mix ingredients thoroughly with magic. Garnish with a slice of Romance.

Sarah A. Hoyt has ambitiously attempted to tie together fantasy, fairy tale, and a bit of romance; and for the most part she pulls it off brilliantly.  It is a difficult work to review without being a spoiler since part of the enjoyment of reading this book is watching how she develops the worlds in the multi-verse and how she incorporates many elements from well-known stories from fairy tales and mythology, with an occasional nod to religion, into a coherent whole.

CHARACTERS: Hoyt does an exceptional job bringing her characters to life.  She uses a formulaic approach to how most of them are developed throughout the story, where she describes them in three stages of growth.  The first stage is she portrays them as they seem to be to others or how they believe that they have to act.  The second stage occurs as they interact with each other and start to learn each other’s secrets and true selves.  For the final stage Hoyt shows the characters starting to understand what they really need to be in order to fulfill their destiny.  In lesser hands this template approach would seem two-dimensional, but Hoyt uses this approach to good effect aligning the character development within the scope of the overall story. (8/10)

PROSE: Hoyt’s prose is hard to describe; in some places it is fluid and conversational, but in other places it borders on being poetic.  Her ability to create word pictures aids in her development of new worlds as she masterfully describes exotic places, Fairyland in particular.  She mentioned in her write-up that the story was written as blog postings over many months, and there is a slow evolution in the use of punctuation and grammar as the story progresses.  Similarly, there were quite a few typos, but she has already claimed these too. (7/10)

PLOT: [Warning: this section contains a few spoilers, so if you plan on reading the book I suggest skipping down to the IDEAS paragraph.] The general structure holds nicely as she develops a modern-day fairy tale of a young lady coming to terms with the fact that she is a princess in another world.  Simultaneously Hoyt creates a concurrent plot about a family of world-jumping witches, closer to the fantasy genre.  The stories intertwine early, with heavy doses of mystery and suspense as the Duke of Darkwater realizes that he is being targeted; and all of the characters begin to question the motives of each other, even their closest family members.

However, there are a few items that weaken the story in my opinion.  The first is relatively minor: the character of the matriarch, the dowager duchess Ainsling, is very interesting and plays a large role in the early part of the story, but then she disappears for most of the second half, making a brief cameo at the end.   The second is that the novel’s climatic showdowns don’t quite live up to the promise of the escalation of the conflicts.  The third issue might be related to Hoyt’s stated goal that she was writing more of a romantic work to lure female fantasy readers. The issue I had is that there are discussions of cross-species relationships, necrophilia, child prostitution, and a heavy dose of homosexuality.  The cross-species relationships is understandable given that the book is somewhere between fantasy and fairytale, but the other items seemed somewhat forced.  My reason for bringing this up is that with the exception of these items, along with maybe two or three unnecessary expletives, I would have liked to pass the book along to my young adolescent daughter to read, as I’m sure she would enjoy the story.  If the author feels that the homosexual relationship is integral to the story, then I’d suggest that she continue to use vague references and hints, as she used earlier in the book where she was modeling it after Regency romances. (6/10)

IDEAS: I thought that the most creative aspect of Hoyt’s universe is that all of the worlds have their own versions of legends and fairytales based on actual happenings, mainly in either Avalon or Fairyland.  As with any fairytale, there are a couple of morals to conclude the story: lead when called upon, and be a servant-leader, not a tyrant. (5/10)

TOTAL: (6.5/10)  In truth I liked Witchfinder better than that score indicates, mainly because it equally weighs all four of the elements above.  This book is the first of Hoyt’s works that I have read, and I found it enjoyable enough that I expect that I’ll soon be reading other books from her.  Men concerned about the “romance” label need not be scared away since the love story is in the background through most of the book.  If Hoyt were to address the issues mentioned above, then I would give this book a high recommendation to young readers as well.