I received this book from Tim Marquitz for a balanced review. I told him it could be close to a year before I got to review it. That was a year ago, almost to the day.
At least I’m timely.
This dark fantasy story, Witch Bane, takes place in the troubled realm of Mynistiria. Beginning in a scramble, Red Guard soldiers disembark from an airborne transport, a hover ship that is being powered by harnessed griffons. Watching nearby from behind trees, young Sebastian and mature Darius witness Red Guard stormtroopers mercilessly attack a caravan of refugees. Women or children, this onslaught persists.
Darius warns Sebastian to keep his head, but Sebastian the warlock rushes from cover to heroically save the surviving members of the caravan. Little did Sebastian foresee this charitable act would conscript him officially into the civil war. It didn’t matter; destiny said he was going there anyway.
Not far in the forest, travels Emerald, a young girl who is pregnant. She is being escorted through the woods by a couple mercenaries seeking out the renegade witch, Elizabeth Bourne. Emerald, bearing a boy in possession of magical powers—she is expecting a warlock. An abomination in the eyes of the law, the baby would be killed at birth if she is caught. Her only hope it to reach Elizabeth Bourne, the leader of the resistance against the corrupt governing matriarchy of witches.
I liked the complexity of this story’s build. Nice dark theme too. Witch Bane isn’t written for sissies. If you’re afraid of blood, Witch Bane is a shower. The story starts on a bang and rarely slows down enough for the reader to catch their breath. If you’ve read any other Tim Marquitz story, then you know these are signature ingredients to his storytelling. Witch Bane doesn’t mess around. Furious, fast-paced, and visceral action is commonplace.
However, what I like even more than the fluid action is the complex unfolding of the story. I’ve been a fan of Tim’s works beginning with reading his Demon Squad series, but Witch Bane was tight—tighter than anything I’ve yet read by Tim Marquitz.
Each character to be introduced seemed familiar. The characters were written by the numbers, and their entry and positioning to the greater story was always on time. I could almost predict the next necessary scene. Many times I was rewarded with exactly what was expected to be there. Repeating myself, this story was told by the numbers in its plotting and design framework.
A particular pairing over all the rest was in both scenes where Sebastian faced the witches’ assassin, named Shade. Both scenes with Shade and Sebastian were fluid and visual, with an inclusion of clever magic. However, it was the delivery of Shade’s death that most impressed me. It is a must read.
Now, beneath the dotted line will be the other side of the balance. Here there may be spoilers. I always try to keep spoilers down to a minimum, but if you chose not to read further, know that the above review is honest and I stand that this is one of Tim Marquitz’s best books.
Now, onto the dark side.
**** **** ****
Actually, there were very few kinks in the armor of Witch Bane. My three best observations are easily parried. These are petty observances, but I promised a balanced review, and this was all I could come up with for the down side. [Tim Marquitz is a seasoned veteran now. He’s ironed out nearly all of his idiosyncrasies.]
- The story starts on action. I had no relevance to any of the characters. There is no feeling as meaningless evil henchmen are chopped into pieces.
True, this is an inconvenience to the reader. However, Tim Marquitz is setting his pace. From the word go, this story is moving and you’d better catch up if you want to keep up. The first battle for Sebastian isn’t about our liking the young warlock or disliking his opponents, it is about the relationship between he and his father and reinforcing a few hints of what we will soon learn. Even though the ride begins a little chaotic, the ‘why’ of how this book begins trumps my criticism.
- The characters were a little too predictable and sometimes without diversity.
I know that is a low shot to take at an action book, but I like character. These characters were among the best that I’ve read from Tim Marquitz. Each character in this book has an agenda to achieve. They all do (or don’t do) their missions effectively. The truth is, these characters didn’t need to be any deeper than what they were to tell this story. Maybe I just found these characters too familiar. (Darius and Elizabeth Bourne were particularly interesting characters. Shade and Victor should have been more.)
Witch Bane’s plotting is by the numbers—to the point of being a little too predictable. Character roles are consistently pegged from the time of their introduction. Witch Bane followed the writers’ playbook so well that there isn’t much room for surprises if you know the formula.
Here is an example— (potential spoiler)
I knew upon meeting ‘the General’ that he would die. I knew which of two characters would make that kill at the time they were introduced. However, I was surprised when ‘the General’ didn’t die where I expected it, but instead his survival only confirmed that the other would kill him. Then when he did die, it seemed so unnecessary. It was almost like killing Kenny in South Park.
- Everything takes place deep in a forest.
Tim’s entire book takes place in a massive forest. In fact, there is more interacting foot traffic in this forest than on a busy street in a typical fantasy city. It’s not just soldiers from both sides of the clashing factions, but also our renegade heroes, the before-mentioned assassin, the runaway pregnant girl named Emerald, several witches from the high council, Victor, who is also known as the Lord of the Hunt, there is even a fat man hauling stolen armor. The forest is huge, yet everybody meets.
As I stated earlier, all these swings at Witch Bane are feeble and easily parried. With the purpose of continuous flow and easy direction, keeping the story limited to a forest scenery is a wise decision. It helps to keep the energy focused on the action and allows for a complex storyline in only a 250-page book. Controlling the setting permitted building his large cast of players without too much outside distractions for the reader. It enabled both Tim (and the readers) to focus on what drove this story, and Tim Marquitz’s preferred driver is action.
In the end, this book accomplished everything it needed to impress me as a reader. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes action-oriented storytelling. I have nothing but solid respect for Tim Marquitz’s work. If Tim Marquitz looks around, he might notice he’s sitting at the same table with R.A. Salvatore and Jim Butcher. Up, up, and away.