Diana Pharaoh Francis

Books: Fantasy

Path of Fate (2003)

Hornsgate Witches: Bitter Night (2009)

Path of Fate (2003)

This book had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, when it lost my attention in the beginning of the book, it never really regained it, even though the story got better.

Reisil is a tark. (Actually: A healer. Why they just couldn't call her a healer is beyond me.) Because she was an orphan, raised by the town where she lives, she grew up desperate for a home and a place of her own, and becoming a healer provided here with that, plus the ability to care for the people who raised her when she had no other family. Unfortunately, her calm and happy future is threatened when she is called to be one of the ahalad-kaaslane--individuals who are chosen by the Blessed Lady to serve the land, and are bonded with an animal.

My main point of contention was this: The cover shows a realistically dressed woman, wrist properly bound with leather, holding a raptor. Cool! I thought, I love covers that are realistic and reasonable! So it's obvious that Reisil is going to become an ahalad-kaaslane. Unfortunately, she spends the first 95 pages denying that bond. The one that from the cover is obviously going to happen.

I found this infuriating. She was going to accept the bird, so why couldn't she just accept it, get it over with, and get ON with the STORY. I was so annoyed by this that I put Path of Fate down three or four times during the first hundred pages, to read other books.

But the story wasn't bad, so I kept trying. And eventually, once she accepted that she was a ahalad-kaaslane, the story finally took off. Unfortunately, I had a residual level of annoyance at the main character, and so never really got sucked into the story--just in case the main character did something else really stupid, and I had to give up on the book entirely. No more stupidity occurred, but that wariness kept me from getting really involved in the story.

I think that if she had condensed the first hundred pages into something much shorter, I would have really enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, she didn't, and so I came away feeling that the book was just okay, and that it really could have been a lot better than it was.

There were some things that I did like: I liked how she planned well, and excluding the stupidity at the start of the story, was a reasonable, level-headed woman. She kept things from her companions, but only because she was justified in not being able to trust them. And once she knew she could trust them, she shared what she knew. I also liked the fact that her healing took energy, just like physical labor would. I also liked, towards the end, the respect that the Blessed Lady and the Dark Lord had for each others boundaries.

One other point particularly bothered me: how bit was the town where Reisil grew up. It seems to switch between small town, and medium to large size city, so I couldn't quite get a handle on it. Additionally, threads were started, and then somewhat ended rather perfunctorily. We get a lot of time and energy invested into Reisil's enmity with Juhrnus, then suddenly it's all over? I found it rather unsatisfactory. Perhaps things sometimes happen that way in real life, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me in this story.

So I felt that the story had good potential, but simply didn't live up to my expectations. As I said, if the first hundred pages had been compressed somehow, and I'd not gotten completely annoyed with the Reisil and the story, I might have enjoyed it more, and been more willing to ignore the other, smaller, flaws.

Rating: 5/10

Hornsgate Witches

Bitter Night (2009)

Max is a Shadowblade. A warrior transformed by and bound to a witch. Shadowblades cannot stand the touch of the sun, and their counterparts–Sunspears–cannot bear the darkness. Between them they guard and protect the witches they serve. Being a Shadowblade or Sunspear incredible abilities and immortality of a kind, however, their lives are hard and full of pain and danger.

I was both pleased and surprised to find a supernatural fantasy that was not full of werewolves and vampires and boinking. Witches have been hiding for centuries (or longer actually) in plain sight, but the power struggles amongst the different covens can be deadly, as witches are both territorial and jealous.

Max is an extremely complex character. Although Giselle has given her incredible strength and powers and seemingly lasting youth, Max hates Giselle and has tried repeatedly to escape, only to be made to suffer more and more after each attempt.

This book had a lot of things I liked–the characters grew throughout the story, and did not remain willfully blind to events around them. Although it wasn't particularly clear how magic worked, it had limits and didn't give witches unlimited power.

I was initially unsure of the structure of the covens, but the long lives of witches provided an explanation for the somewhat feudal (and cruel) system.

There were a couple of drawbacks to the book however, first and foremost was the resolution between Giselle and Solange.

Second, was that although this book had a self-contained story arc, it was clearly a set-up for what looks to be a long running series. (Interestingly, the story looks almost like it's trying to create a world similar to that in Faith Hunter's Rogue Mage series. (Accidental for sure, but since I recently finished the Rogue Mage series, the similarities stood out.)) As a matter of personal preference, I tend to dislike plots that take multiple books to resolve, but I was pleased to see the arc of the story concluded, despite the threads of the story begging to be picked up in later books.

Although this book was boink free (YAY) there was romantic tension between two of the characters that will probably lead to boinking in later books. Just so you're aware.

And although it has no bearing on the story, what is the deal with the headless body on the cover? OK, OK, it's not completely headless, but I still think it's incredibly creepy. What is appealing about a book with a torso on the cover? This seems to be the opposite of the floating head paranormal romance covers. Are women who read fantasy incapable of seeing an entire body on the covers of our books?

Would I like to read more about the characters? Yes. But I'm hesitant to get into a long running series without a set endpoint. (I do think that in some ways Robert Jordan ruined epic fantasy, in that who wants to get involved in a story that is going to take decades to resolve?)

If you like supernatural fantasy, then I think you'll enjoy Bitter Night. However, this is almost certainly going to be a long running series, so you may want to consider that if that's an issue for you as it is for me.

Rating: 7/10