Friday, 23 July 2010

‘Waking the Witch’ – Kelley Armstrong (Dutton)

Despite my going on about how most Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance is just the same old story (with different names added to the mix) I still find myself going back to the genre for a read more often than I’ll care to admit. Part of this is a ‘comfort read’ thing (something I’ve been after a lot just recently!) but the other reason is that when the balance is right Urban Fantasy always makes for a fun read.
One of the authors who I feel gets the balance spot on is one Kelley Armstrong, an author who absolutely won’t let romance get in the way of her plot. The two go more or less hand in hand and this makes for a plot driven read with characters that are always interesting to follow. I haven’t read all of her ‘Otherworld’ books but whenever I come across one I’ll be sure to give it a go. It took me a while to get to ‘Waking the Witch’ but it was worth the wait. Kind of...

Even members of the supernatural community need a little sleuthing work done every now and again... Savannah Levine (half witch, half sorcerer) works as the junior member of a Private Investigations firm and is eager to finally get her teeth into a case that she can call her own. Once she does though, Savannah will be lucky if she lives to regret it.
Three women have turned up dead in a small town and there are signs that an occult ritual may be at the bottom of it all. Savannah doesn’t need much encouragement to take the case but her arrival in town is just the precursor to more people dying (more often that not, just as she arrives on the scene). Is someone covering their tracks or laying a trap for Savannah? Has the town bad boy bitten off more than he can chew or is the head of the local commune scared of what might be found behind the tool shed...? One thing is for sure, Savannah Levine is going to need all her luck and magic to stay ahead of the game. It’s just a shame that certain other people have no luck at all...

‘Waking the Witch’ is one of those stories that comes across as self contained (and ‘stand alone’) but is anything but. This is to be expected really, ‘Waking the Witch’ is book number eleven in the ‘Otherworld’ series so there is bound to be some cross referencing with earlier instalments. If you haven’t read earlier books about Savannah Levine though then the whole payoff for ‘Waking the Witch’ isn’t going to make much sense at all. I’ve never really read the ‘Savannah Levine’ books so the revelation about the killer really came out of left field for me and looked to be at serious odds with what the rest of the book had been building up to. Long term readers will no doubt look at the ending in a completely different light. As a casual reader of Armstrong’s work, the sense I got was of an ending (that was way off base) that had been jammed onto the end of the book and left hanging... This is definitely worth bearing in mind if ‘Waking the Witch’ is the first book of Kelley Armstrong’s that you’re planning on picking up. The book isn’t as self contained as it first appears...

It’s a bit of a shame that things went this way for me as, in most other respects, ‘Waking the Witch’ was a thoroughly entertaining read that had me reading until I’d finished the book. The mystery itself isn’t particularly original but that comes over the course of the book as Armstrong adds more and more questions to the mix. As with all good detective fiction, things don’t really start to make sense to our heroine until the very end of the book and Armstrong does very well to string things like this; it was an approach that kept me reading as I had to factor in all the little issues that kept popping up and throwing the case in new directions. Armstrong gives her readers a case that is constantly changing and you have to keep reading if you’re going to stay ahead of the game! The ending may not work for certain people (like me) but the build up is certainly more than satisfactory.

What Armstrong also looks to give her readers is a very convincing picture of a (very) junior detective who’s finding herself more and more out of her depth but still determined to see things through until the bitter end. Savannah Levine is a very strong character in this regard and her determination powers the story along at a rate guaranteed to draw you along with it. There’s also a side to her just dark enough to make her worth hanging around with, just to see what she’s capable of...
There’s the potential for plenty of romance here and Savannah being who she is (as well as the good looking men she just happens to conveniently keep bumping into) means that this does get explored. It doesn’t take over the plot completely though, something I was really pleased to see. The important thing is always solving the case and that’s just the way it should be here (seeing as that’s what the book is about). There is time for romance though and it feeds back into the plot in the best possible ways.

What really struck me though was the fact that Armstrong is clearly not afraid to end the case on a low note and really put Savannah through the wringer. If that wasn’t bad enough, the last lines of the book really throw things up in the air and have ensured that I’ll at least be round for the next instalment, just to see what happens next. If Armstrong is going to develop her characters like this then I’m along for the ride!

‘Waking the Witch’ is probably one for long term fans only, purely because of the way that it links to earlier books. As a relative newcomer, the ending felt a little contrived and tacked on... There was still a lot to recommend it though and Kelley Armstrong has done enough to make sure that I won’t be a relative newcomer for much longer. 'Waking the Witch' is published by Dutton in the US, I'm not 100% sure but I'll hazard a guess and say that Orbit will be publishing it in the UK.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

1 comment:

WonderBunny said...

I read somewhere else that they thought someone could start with this book. I wondered about that. I'm glad to see that isn't really the case. All of the books are good - some are just better then others. Well, all the ones I've read have been. I think I am behind by four or so books so now I get to play catch up.
Good review!