The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth

The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden
Harold Roth
Weiser, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Bailey.

A plant is a sacred text,” Harold Roth writes in this wonderful book. The description, the plan, the story of the plant’s spirit,” he continues, and when you tend that plant and cultivate it and groom it, you indicate to its spirit that you are receptive to its contact.” (pp. 12-13). This book’s ambitious — and largely successful — goal is to marry the art of growing plants as a gardener with using plant magic as a practitioner of the Craft.

The thirteen witching herbs selected by the author are: poppy, clary sage, yarrow, rue, hyssop, vervain, mugwort, wormwood, datura, wild tobacco, henbane, belladonna, and mandrake. Roth relies on common names and does not emphasize the scientific binomials; in my reading, this is the book’s only significant flaw. While this is not a scientific text (although much good science is included, especially about plants’ chemical compositions), readers need to know exactly which species the author means. In this aspect, as well as others, the book’s primary audience is the intermediate to advanced practitioner.

His chapter “Cultivating Your Witch’s Garden” is a thorough introduction to establishing plants in your garden. As a lifelong gardener, I appreciate his emphasis on the spirituality inherent in bonding with plants we choose to cultivate. Roth’s self-deprecating humor shines when he confesses that although he can grow datura, he can’t grow a zucchini!

I like the way the author does not shy away from what he calls “the baneful plants,” especially those in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. He presents information on just what exactly makes them baneful, largely tropane alkaloids that can produce sinister hallucinations and behaviors and can even kill. “New Age approaches to the natural world have meant that many no longer expect plant spirits to have anything but calm and wise personalities” — in contrast, “datura gets a bang out of messing with people” (p. 178). The chapter for each baneful plant contains copious, explicit, and vivid warnings about their effects, from merely smelling the flowers to touching their leaves with ungloved hands.

This unique and well-written volume includes lore, cultural history, growing tips, instructions for magical uses of each plant and a comprehensive bibliography. A worthy addition to a green witch’s library.

I’ll give Harold Roth the last word: “No one can gainsay healthy witching herbs that you grow yourself. They are there as proof of your hard-won expertise. I hope this book leads you to experience the satisfaction, confidence, and knowledge that are born from the serious practice of growing the witching herbs and devotion to their spirits” (p. 245).

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Plant Magic by Sandra Kynes

Plant Magic: A Year of Green Wisdom for Pagans and Wiccans
Sandra Kynes
Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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Review by Rebecca Buchanan.

I love to garden and I love to bake, so I was very excited to lay my hands on an advance copy of Sandra Kynes’ new Plant Magic. I am happy to report that Kynes’ book is well-researched, easy to understand, and would make a great addition to the library of any witch, gardener, or baker.

The book is divided into two main sections: a lengthy introduction, followed by entries for each individual month. In the case of Plant Magic, it is vital to *not* skip the Getting Started section. Kynes lays out the importance of scientific names (“meadowsweet” for example, is colloquially applied to two very different plants), defines some basic botanical terms, discusses the role of the planets and stars and moon in plant magick, and analyzes the symbolism of the various parts of plants.

Each month, in turn, is divided into four sections: On the Calendar (sacred days and the plants associated with them), In the Garden, In the Wild, and In the House. January, for example, includes entries on New Year’s, Epiphany, and the Celtic Month of Rowan, witch hazel, eucalyptus, spider plant, and a winter wellness rite with thyme. The entry on witch hazel is further divided into a discussion of its common and scientific names, a description of the plant, its magical uses, its astrological influences, and its link to the ogham Emancoll.

I definitely recommend Plant Magic. It is one of the easiest-to-use manuals on the subject that I have ever seen. I do have a suggestion, though: if you buy a physical copy of the book, also grab a blank journal. Use it to take notes, jot down garden plans, and, especially, include photos of the plants. Aside from a lunar chart and illustrations of ogham and runes, there are *no* pictures in Plant Magic. (In the case of a digital copy, it should be possible to copy/paste and attach images in the margins, or create hyperlinks.)

Recommended, especially in conjunction with texts such as Roth’s The Witching Herbs, Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, Riotte’s Carrots Love Tomatoes, and Culpepe’s Herbal.

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The Hearth Witch’s Compendium by Anna Franklin

The Hearth Witch’s Compendium: Magical and Natural Living for Every Day
Anna Franklin
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Sharynne NicMhacha.

This book is a true magical compendium, and an absolutely delightful volume to own! Every detail has been well thought out, from the cover art to the graphics inside, from the inspiring contents to inviting open spaces where the reader can mark down their own notes or experiences.

The main sections of the book include: The Witch’s Kitchen; Wine, Cider and Beer; Preserving; The Witch’s Home; Personal Care; A Witch’s Guide to Natural Beauty; The Witch’s Garden; Herbs for Healing; Home Remedies; Essential Oils; Magical Herbalism; Incense; Vegetable Dyes; and appendices containing information about color correspondences, planetary influences, and magical herbal correspondences.

One might expect a book of this type to contain just a few of these sections, or a number of sections that contain just a few recipes. This book is a cornucopia of knowledge, and the information is solid and plentiful. Each section contains excellent foundational information as well as unusual and enticing recipes.
The chapter on The Witch’s Kitchen contains daily food recipes as well as traditional foods for the eight holidays. The chapter about Wine, Cider and Beer cider provides brewing information and many truly magical recipes, including Rowan Wine, Hawthorn Berry Wine, Hedgerow Wine, and Honeysuckle Wine, to name just a few.

This is followed by a chapter on preserving, which provides guidance on making jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit curds (I grew up in Canada where lemon curd was spread on toast or crumpets). There is also information on making fruit cheeses and fruit butters, as well as fruit syrups, pickled foods, chutney and sauces. In addition, instruction is given for drying foods, making fruit leathers and other methods of conserving food. I was especially happy to see a section on non-alcoholic cordials, as not everybody wants to partake of alcohol before or during a rite (and children can partake as well!)

The chapter called The Witch’s Home contains alternative and natural home and cleaning products which are very useful indeed; good for you and your loved ones, and good for the planet as well! The next chapter is on Personal Care and provides the reader with recipes for bath bombs, bath teabags, milk baths, bath powders, natural shampoos and coloring rinses, amongst many other wonderful products you can create.

In the chapter entitled A Witch’s Guide to Natural Beauty, we learn about the uses of herbs and how to make facial scrubs and masks, facial cleansers such as Elderberry Cleanser or Cucumber and Honey Cleanser, skin toners like Violet Milk, moisturizers, skin treatments and more.

The next chapter brings us to The Witch’s Garden, with suggestions for creating gardens based on magical uses, winemaking, healing products, natural cosmetics, dyes and more. The author gives many ideas and tips for moon gardening and indoor gardening as well.

Next is Herbs for Healing, in which we meet the plants and learn how to make traditional herbal preparations. Home Remedies follows, with many useful and unusual recipes such as making a Meadowsweet Compress or a Castor Oil and Juniper Rub. This is very useful section, and different elements are listed with associated recipes and herbs. Perhaps you think you’ve already seen this type of book, but the information in this compendium includes tried-and-true recipes as well as many unique and alluring ones.

The chapter on essential oils is arranged alphabetically and contains information about magical virtues, deities, planets, elements and sun signs, as well as how to use the oils for health. It also describes how to make and charge magical oils with useful charts for different purposes.

Finally we come to Magical Herbalism, and teachings on gathering ritual herbs, identifying herbs, planetary correspondences and magical uses. In addition there are recipes and instructions for making potions, teas and herbal inks!

The chapter on incense making was very interesting and covered different categories like resins, essential oils, woods and barks, roots, dried berries, dried herbs, dried flowers, and seeds and pods. A wide range of incense recipes follows, some of which are associated with particular deities or elements, holidays or moon phases, and specific purposes like cleansing, banishing or abundance.

The last chapter discusses vegetable dyes and how to make a wide variety of dyes and colors from plant materials. This is a book you will return to time and time again, one of those books that you keep for a lifetime and in which you continue to discover new magic and marvels every time you open it up. Highly recommended!

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The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff

The Witch’s Cauldron: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Ritual Vessels
Laura Tempest Zakroff
Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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Review by Natalie Zaman.

I’m kind of in love with Llewellyn’s Tools series. Written by different authors, each little volume (literally—it measures a neat 5 by 7 inches) is a fast read that offers a sampling of spell and ritual, mostly by the author, but also by several contributing authors for a nice mix, but also a good dose of lore, history and background: Know thy tools—which, even in the mundane sense is a necessary if you’re going to use a tool properly. Laura Tempest Zakroff’s The Witch’s Cauldron, the latest addition to this series, explores this humble, yet mighty vessel. As with other volumes in the Tools Series, several other writers contribute essays; in The Witch’s Cauldron, they’re cleverly pre-titled “Stirring the Cauldron.”

The first third of the book is an extended introduction: Chapter one covers cauldron basics, everything from definitions to uses to the root of the word “cauldron.” which I found particularly interesting. This is followed by a chapter on mythology and lore that goes beyond Ceridwen and encompass a variety of cultures—while I loved the retelling and discussion of Baba Yaga and her flying cauldron, I thought the Cauldron Game, which discusses cauldrons as vessels of victory was really insightful. Chapter three covers the practical aspects of the cauldron, materials used, considerations for purchasing, and, I was surprised, making your own cauldron. Of course forging is mentioned—it kind of has to be, but not all of us are smiths. Considering what a cauldron is and can be (read the book to learn more!) the idea that cauldrons can be made of paper mache and 3-d printed illustrates (I thought) an important aspect of evolution in the Craft: while we honor the past, we must make for our own times.

Things get interactive for the remainder of the book with suggestions and guidance for preparation (Chapter 4: Getting Started; please do read up on Cauldron Safety—again very thorough because not all cauldrons are crucibles!), ritual (Chapter 5: In the Circle—Ritual Arts; my favorite, Cauldrons as Ritual Markers—not just an excuse to buy/make more cauldrons!), spellwork (Chapter 6: Making Magick—Spellcraft and the Cauldron; I want to try Angus McMahan’s “Soaking a Spell”—an innovative and practical use for a cauldron in spellwork.) and divination (Chapter 7: The Seers Cauldron; loved the Dice Cup.). Chapter 8, Thinking Outside the Cauldron was my favorite in the book because it made me see my own world with new eyes—there are cauldrons, and thus the possibility of magic everywhere: in my bathroom, on my stove and in my laundry room. The book closes with a look at the cauldron as a virtual vessel; the spiritual cauldron of ideas, inspiration and devotion.

The Witch’s Cauldron is a little book, but incredibly thorough and perceptive, a cool crash course on cauldronaria from an experienced practioner with a flair for storytelling, and making what could be dry material a fast and fun read.

The copy of The Witch’s Cauldron that I hold in my hands is the redesigned package for Llewellyn’s Tools series. While I know one should definitely not judge books by their covers, cover and interior art are important aesthetics that express the character of a book. That said, I like both styles of covers for different reasons, but this new packaging—definitely more pared down and reminiscent of the styling of Wooden Books main line (http://woodenbooks.com), lends a very “book of shadows” quality to the series, while the interior illustrations maintain a sense of “yes, magic is serious business, but it can also be whimsical”—and sometimes that’s what magick is all about.

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Grovedaughter Witchery by Bree NicGarran

Grovedaughter Witchery: Practical Spellcraft
Bree NicGarran
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

Every once in a while you run into a book and find yourself thinking, “Wow, I wish I’d had this when I was starting out!” NicGarran’s book is one of those- it’s basic in the best possible way: fundamental, taking nothing for granted, with an emphasis on doing your research. It’s written very clearly, and the author’s patient and practical tone is very helpful. There’s a strong emphasis on safely dealing with “real world” elements such as fire and dangerous plants.

This is not to say that this book is for beginners only. I really appreciated her discussion of the scarcity and endangered status of some magical plants, and her suggestions for substitution. The book covers a wide range of spell purposes and formats, with a good balance of “how to” and “recipe” sections. Many of her innovations could usefully expand the toolkit of any experienced spellcrafter. The reference material is useful, too- there are listings of plants by magical use, plus further sections for the “go-to” purposes like warding and hexing.

NicGarran’s system is heavily herbalism-based; in that and in many other ways it resembles folk magic systems from a wide variety of cultures, with one major difference: there are no goddesses or gods, no spirits, no prayers. This underlines an important point about this book- she views witchcraft as practical spellcraft, and presents her system without any religious elements. She states her position at the very start of the book; you can quibble with her definitions, but I can tell she wouldn’t budge an inch! That being said, she presents a strong framework that doesn’t require religious, spiritual, or astrological/lunar elements, although it would be easy (and probably enhancing) to add them in.

The book could use a separate section on raising and directing energy into spells to empower them; there are mentions of this scattered through the work, but consolidating them would make things clearer. The advice about spiritual attack is in general good, but I would have added a qualification that it can happen, and advice to seek a qualified spirit worker if it does.

This is a really impressive work- NicGarran has built it from the ground up, and tested every spell and charm that she’s created. I’m not much of a magician (though my spouse is), but I do occasionally need to do some spellwork. I’m going to keep this one on my shelf- I have a feeling it will end up being very useful.

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The Witch by Ronald Hutton

The Witch: A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present
Ronald Hutton
Yale University Press, 2017

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Review by John Kruse.

Ronald Hutton — for the rare reader who isn’t already aware of him — is a professor of history at Bristol University. Hutton is as well known for TV appearances as for his writings on folklore, pagan religions, druidry, shamanism and folk festivals. This book, his study of the history of witchcraft, was awaited with anticipation because of his reputation for academic rigor combined with a balanced approach to his esoteric subjects.

I must start with a word of warning for potential readers. Hutton spends as much time comparing and contrasting other academics’ ideas on his subject as he does examining the evidence himself. Be prepared for a very scholarly format, and a great deal of reference to previous books and journal articles. It can be a bit daunting and, if you don’t have access to the sort of library holding these materials, a bit frustrating as well.

That said, if you are looking for a comprehensive overview of the practices of witchcraft and popular views about witches over the centuries, this weighty book is a good starting point. Hutton surveys witchcraft across the globe and from the earliest times, taking in the ancient Near East, African and Native North American cultures. After the first few chapters, though, his focus narrows to (mainly Western) Europe and a lot of his evidence on witch trials and on fairy lore is specifically British.

Hutton suggest five characteristics that help define a “witch.” Four beliefs are customary: that witches exist; that they can cause harm to individuals by uncanny means; ; that witches work within an inherited tradition; and that they are evil, but can be resisted. Hutton also introduces the concept of “service magicians” or what one might call “good witches,” magical specialists who fought against malicious witchcraft. Hutton’s definition of the word “witch” is based in history and folklore, and is quite distinct from that espoused by modern, nature-based religions, which he describes as “thoroughly worthwhile.”

The Witch contains fascinating information about the evolution of witch beliefs during the middle ages in Italy, France, and Germany. This period provided the foundations for many images (broomsticks and sabbats, for example) associated with witchcraft to this day. Of particular interest was the section on the “hosts of the night” who would visit homes, blessing or cursing the inhabitants dependent upon whether or not food and drink were left out for them.Hutton suggests these beliefs as the origin of the British idea of fairies who visited homes and would reward or punish according to whether the house was tidy.

Hutton describes the fact that the medieval church was a good deal more tolerant than its successors. Hutton suggests that this reflects the dominance and power of Catholicism in the middle ages, and notes that the Great Witch Hunts occurred during the chaos and uncertainty of the Reformation period.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on witches and ceremonial magic: I’m interested in spells for conjuring fairies but these are clearly linked to the work of magi like John Dee and may be traced back to Egyptian magical practices.

Turning to chapter 8 on fairies — my main reason for reading the book — Hutton offers an overview of the evolution of English fairy belief from 1200-1600 and examines the association between fairies and witches. His sketch of the development of British ideas as to the nature of fairies draws on a wide range of literary as well as folkloric sources, but underplays the native roots of the belief and is inclined to ascribe too much to quite late continental imports.

As for the relationship with fairies claimed by some witches, I believe that Hutton gives undue prominence to accounts given under duress by defendants in witch trials. The claims of special healing powers from the fairies are fairly unusual and I wonder if there are better explanations. Hutton also speculates whether a belief in fairies made a society less susceptible to a belief in satanic witches. Ireland might be cited in favor of this proposal, but the evidence is very complex; leaving this as a subject deserving of further study.

All in all, Ronald Hutton’s The Witch is an erudite and demanding read, packed with information and resources for further study.

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The Witch’s Book of Spirits by Devin Hunter

The Witch’s Book of Spirits
Devin Hunter
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Lisa McSherry.

A follow up to his previous work (The Witch’s Book of Power, Llewellyn 2016), The Witch’s Book of Spirits is an interesting and provocative look at the many inhabitants of the Spirit World.

Many witches see working with non-human beings as a vital part of their practice. I’m a witch who is not a medium: I do not easily, nor naturally, communicate with spirits. For these reasons, I’ll admit that much of what Hunter discusses has little meaning for me: the author and I don’t share a common understanding of the concepts involved. But many of the witches I know and work with do have more natural relationships with the spirits, and their knowledge helps me to evaluate Hunter’s expertise.

The Witch’s Book of Spirits guides the reader in working with spirits and developing mediumship-related abilities. The information is easily understandable and many exercises. Hunter constantly reminds the reader to take precautions, and provides techniques in how to keep unwanted spirits at bay or how to remove them if they refuse to leave. The chapter “Staying on Top” to be an excellent guide maintaining proper boundaries, and this chapter alone justifies putting this book into my must-read list for newcomers to the Craft.

The book is broken into three parts: “The Familiar Craft,” “The Spirits of the Art,” and “The Grimoire of the 33 Spirits.” At the end of chapters, Hunter includes journal topics to prompt exploration into the topics discussed. “The Familiar Craft” provides a massive amount of information on terminology and processes. Topics include flying, conjuring, safety, mediumship, and planes of existence. In In “The Spirits of the Art,” Hunter names four most common types of spirits: angels, the dead, faeries, and demons. Finally, in “The Grimoire of the 33 Spirits or the Book of the VEXNA-KARI,” we go in a completely different direction. Channeled from his familiar Malach, Hunter kicks off this section with humorous personal reflection about the message he received from Malach and then the messages that came through afterward from the 33 Spirits.

A little vinegar with all this honey: the author truly believes that he doesn’t do “high” or “ceremonial” magic, even going so far as to say: “Ceremonial magic… is really the magic of the aristocracy.” I would agree with him that CM is very aristocratic and exclusive. Nonetheless, quite a few of his techniques and rituals are pretty darn formal … and ceremonial. I found The Witch’s Book of Spirits to be a useful and challenging work that will likely become a book I recommend frequently.

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The Witch’s Book of Shadows by Jason Mankey

The Witch’s Book of Shadows
Jason Mankey
Llewellyn, 2017

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Review by Lisa McSherry.

For so many witches, the Book of Shadows is a tool fraught with nervousness. My first BOS — a hardbound journal with a black cover — was deeply pretentious, written in Theban with an inkpen and using carefully chosen inks, a setup that lasted about a month before inertia took over and I stopped using it for several years. My near-daily journal of the time instead contains all of my memories and witch plans, along with typical musings about school and my relationships. For many reasons I love my first BOS but it wasn’t until the pretentiousness was eliminated that it became an actual tool. I suspect my situation is one many newcomers face, a suspicion borne out by my many students over the years who worry a great deal more about how their BOS looks, and less about what goes inside. A few authors have taken on the “How To Do a Book of Shadows” topic over the years, but not until Jason Mankey produced The Witch’s Book of Shadows do I think that it has been well done.

One of the best aspects of this book is that Mankey does a great job describing how a witch will have many Books over time, that they aren’t permanent but meant primarily to capture data that isn’t easily tracked. Practically speaking, his rituals for releasing old Books were good, as is the whole notion that you can start a Book and then transfer that data into a new Book as need arises or as new technologies become available. This is a great approach. Maybe Mankey’s words will help put a stake in the trap of perfectionism and get on with the real Work. He certainly takes the time to describe the pros and cons of many types of Book: journal, binder, cut-and-paste, and handwritten; all of which allows the reader to consider what will work best for them.
Mankey also does a good job discussing the many different options one can take when constructing their own Book and while construction and usage of the BoS take up a large part of this book, Mankey also delves into a brief history and talks about what the future may hold for them in this electronic age as well. I found the “Alphabets, Fonts, Inks, and Symbols” chapter helpful, as well as the “Cleansing, Consecrating, and Other Rituals” chapter. The chapter discussing the history of the Book (“Out of the Shadows”) was interesting and as a witch who works a great deal in a virtual environment, “New Frontiers and the BoS” was a oft-overlooked addition.

I do have a few small criticiscms: the focus is strongly Wiccan, although includes a surprising amount of Christian imagery and language. I call this out especially since it is part of a series (#5, in fact) of books for Witches in general. Many witches, including myself, are not Wiccan, so placing an emphasis on that path feels more than a little off-putting.

Of all the Witch’s tools, the Book of Shadows is the most personal. Mankey has done a great job making it accessible as well.

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The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic by Owen Davies

The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic
Edited by Owen Davies
Oxford University Press, 2017

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Review by Jason Mankey.

This is a challenging — and mostly academic — look at magical traditions over the last 3,000 years. I’m a huge fan of Davies’ contributions to magical history, especially Grimoires: A History of Magical Books and Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History, and this volume is a solid supplement to that work. But because it’s a collection featuring several different scholars, the tone throughout is uneven, and some essays feel far more relevant and enlightening than others.

While reading Witchcraft and Magic, I couldn’t stop wondering who the intended audience for this book is. It’s far too academic for casual readers, and probably not in-depth enough for academics. Topics I was intimately familiar with (such as the emergence of the Modern Craft) felt like they were given short shrift, while things I was less interested in seemed to take up more space. Often times I felt as I were reading a text-book designed for college students enrolled in Religious Studies 101.

Readers looking for a history of Modern Witchcraft along the lines of Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon will be mightily disappointed. Modern spiritual Witchcraft covers just eight or so pages, with no mention of Victor and Cora Anderson nor of the rise of “Traditional Witchcraft” over the last ten or so years.

I also found a chapter on “Witchcraft and Magic in Anthropology” somewhat uncomfortable. Perhaps it was fashionable to call the magic of the Azande people of Sudan “witchcraft” in the 1920’s, but I think we can do better today. I’m sure they have their own name for it, and translating native interpretations of magic to simply “witchcraft” feels limiting and reads as a desire to place everything in a Euro-centric box). We can and should do better.

Despite these criticisms, there are things about this book that I genuinely enjoyed. It’s an absolutely beautiful book: the images alone make this book worth flipping through, with many far outside the realm of “the usual” pictures one sees in books and articles about magical traditions.

The book is at its best when discussing the modern period, and the majority of the text covers the last 600 years or so. I once read that it takes about thirty years for new academic information to reach the masses, and anyone looking for up to date academic interpretations of Europe and North America’s Witch Trials will find them here. Davies’ own chapter on “The World of Popular Magic” is a welcome antidote to much of the unscholarly information currently floating around about cunning-craft and other forms of folk magic.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an academic approach to society’s views on magic and witchcraft over the last several hundred years.

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The Last Circle by Gretchen Blickensderfer

The Last Circle
Gretchen Blickensderfer
Self-published 2013
486 pages

Reviewed by Amanda Fisher

This is a rather long but very compelling thriller, set in a near-future American dystopia. What could happen if all of the fundamentalist Christian wing-nuts got it all their own way politically? This, like the very different Handmaid’s Tale, shows a version of the results, and why we need to take their sometimes ridiculous rhetoric seriously. I know this is a political comment, and I make it because the politics of the book are unavoidable. If you are sympathetic to the extremes of right-wing political rhetoric and its aims, you will hate this book.

It’s very focused on the action, which is fast moving with strong tension- so much so that I finished it in 2 days, even though it’s almost 500 pages! (Don’t be too put off by the length; it moves very fast, plus the type size is large and the line spacing very open.) The plot is very twisty, too, and primarily character-driven… which leads to one of its problems. The characters of the Bad Guys, especially Shelby, are more like caricatures. They’re definitely sociopathic, and possibly (especially Shelby) literally insane. I do not see how a pragmatic, if sociopathic, leader like Stephen Palmer would allow someone as basically unhinged as Shelby into the top circle of power. But then, we don’t see enough of him to know if he’s also psychotic; he may be, and just hides it better.

The Good Guys are better drawn- generally sympathetic, but flawed and they quite often irritate both each other and the reader. The main problem I had with them is that they did not seem consistently flawed. Sometimes their attitudes and responses didn’t seem coherent to what had gone before. However, compared to the kind of action story in which all the Good Guys seem to be of one mind and always in accord, this is refreshingly realistic. I also did enjoy reading a thriller where modern Pagans were definitely the Good Guys!

I liked the way the setting addressed the idea of what the USA would look like if extremist fringe of the right wing got their way. This was pointed up by the quotes that start each chapter- actual quotes from actual public figures, cited at the end of the book- though I wished the cites had been included with the quotes themselves, and think that would have made a stronger point that people are really talking about doing these things, here and now.

Dystopias tend to be exaggerated, and that’s true here. I really don’t think that the USA would slide into becoming a nation of fanatics in 5 or so years, especially not to the degree depicted.
Mostly people are far too apathetic for that…and if they were going for the apathetic as well as the “unbelievers”, they would not have much popular support- especially after they took away all the raunch in the media! I could be wrong about this, but very much hope I am not.

My final quibble has to do with the writing style, especially some of the word choices. They were odd in their rhythms and connotations. For example: “…[Texas] closing its borders to all but the most loyal paramours of Jesus.” (pg. 454) “Paramours” implies a far more carnal relationship than I think the author meant! Similarly, “She was screaming in berserk agitation as a third [agent] hammered a baton onto her gunshot wound.” (pg. 362). The nuances of neither “berserk” nor “agitation” really seem to fit the described scene. Also: “All were tacitly organized and, under Lilyan’s covert direction, assuaged their outraged guilt…” (pg. 377) It’s really awkward, since the adjectives do not match up well with the nouns they’re paired with. These are three examples, but this dissonance permeated the book. It’s as if the author used a thesaurus to find a fancier word with an arguably similar meaning, rather than choosing a plainer word that fit the sentences more comfortably.

I got this book for reviewing for paganbookreviews.net and I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it a lot despite its flaws, and would be interested in more from
Blickensderfer.

3.5 pawprints out of five.

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