Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Witchember" by John Lawson

Author: John Lawson
Title: "Witchember"
Pages: 489
Publisher: Publish America

“Witchember” started an interesting dilemma inside me right from the request for a review, when John Lawson asked me for a review. Checking him out I discovered that he is an independent author, who used Publish America to go out on the market and this was when the reader met the consumer. As a reviewer I aimed for big publishing houses, which had the best titles, the shiniest covers and so on. When I consulted the reader in me, I knew he demanded good literature and it came in different shapes and sizes. Contrary to most beliefs that self published works are rubbish, I was pleasantly surprised by what John Lawson has written.

To try and classify what genre this is, I would suggest you take the typical Tolkienesque world and strip it from the beauty, nobility and valiance. The timeline is set somewhere at the end and after the Middle Ages, since the world has gunpowder and riffles, but blades still rule. You take the diversity of Greek Mythology and its wonders and mix it with all the “Saw” movies. To finish off enter any anime’s massive proportions of combat and you have “Witchember”.

Quite frankly I have never read a novel, which is so incredibly cruel to its characters and this I find refreshing. You have a world in war with monsters and amongst themselves. The cultures are harsh and if you want to live, then you must play by the rules. Kill or get killed. Esmeree is our guide in this world and we follow her path from early childhood, when she is a fry and has to earn enough money to secure her stay at the mill. This includes stealing, begging and I think it has been hinted enough that sex with children wasn’t a taboo on the streets of Cliffs Reach. Unlike most children with the same fate as hers, she manages to survive, mainly because she is a stone summoner, possessing an ember, which gives her magic. Becoming the new Mill’s leader apprentice, another witch, lady Andelizza, she excels in magic and gain stature and respect in the guild. Her studying with the beggar Myrdd grants her immense knowledge of the world around her, which comes quite handy later on.

This is all for starters. All before her eighteenth year she becomes a powerful witch, an elite prostitute, a skilled swordswoman, a head hunter for other mages, a miracle worker and a cofounder of an independent guild, haven for outcasts. Nothing comes easy though. Every small victory comes at the expense of the lives of her friends and her inability to save them in time. Death follows her likes a shadow, for all around her and herself as well. Every twenty pages or so, Esmeree has to dodge yet another blade or the claws of another beast.

This seemed surreal for me. For more reasons than one. Teens never acted like grownups in these books. They never seemed so mature. They always had to come of age. The main theme of most of the medieval fantasy books. They were never ruthless or could fight. Then came the reminder. In history children were being married at 13 or less. Spartans taught their children how to fight from the cradle and the harshness of all preindustrial ages forced children to be adults. Our own history background made everything all the more believable. And I even explained why the narrative constantly switched from erudite to harsh and primal. Considering Esmeree is a child of the street explains the crude sailor vocabulary and world view. Then comes the education provided by Myrdd and we have perfectly sound duality. Even if at times it’s annoying, the story provides an explanation as to why.

“Witchember” grabs from the start and never lets go. Apart from the action that never seems to stop, the novel occupies our minds with the masterfully created world with its countless religions, theories about gods and magic, types of warriors, lore, military strategies, politics and rich history. In my short experience with literature I have yet to encounter world building, which could rival Tolkien in originality and tone. The world of the Seven Kingdoms might sound a bit cliché, but it has more flare and wonder than most worlds ever created. The occult is never really full without the magical beasts and we have skin stealing nightwalkers; kobolds; griffins; half human half bird raaks, who use children mutilated children as their speaker and live in a dimension made of intestines; forest realms filled with sentient humanoid plant elves called alfs and so on.

This novel is one of the grandest projects I have ever seen, but it has its down sides as well. For starters this is a first novel for the author and we all know how debuts novels seem to not flow so well. There were times, where the author was indecisive in his scenes and then some of the scenarios felt rushed and not totally explored. Mainly around Esmeree’s interaction with the minor characters. We see way less of her relationships with them as to later feel her anguish, when she loses them. Another two hundred pages or so would have contributed to the greater effect of the novel. The use of thought up words also strained my nerves as I had the e-book version and scrolling up and down from the page I was to the glossary was more than irritating.

But apart from these issues, which most of the time fall in the background, “Witchember” has something, which sets it apart from all the rest, although I can’t pinpoint it. It’s violence, sex and gritty. The life of those, who are left without choices, is showed without the slightest idea to reveal the spark of goodness and moral in human beings. It aims to show how people can live with selling themselves to anyone in more ways than one and be contempt to live with their choices… well most of the time.


SQT said...

Wow. What a great and comprehensive review.

daydream said...

The wow means a lot! Thank you for reading!

WitchEmber said...

Harry, thanks so much for the amazingly thoughtful review. I appreciate it because it is obvious you really read the book and put a lot of thought into your comments. Thanks tons!


daydream said...

I personally haven't been challenged with such a book in the positive way to get the zest and write such a review. Great work really.

Gabe said...

Harry - Totally great blog you've got here, and a very cool review. Thanks for pointing me your way!

daydream said...

Thanks, Gabe. You are welcome. I'm trying to keep it that way. ;)

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Wow, this is the second review I read of this.... sounds sooo good. -C

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