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Preliminary comment. In case you haven't read my previous blog posts, I'm attempting the not-quite-Herculean task of reviewing the finalists for the 2018 Dragon Awards in FOUR major categories. I feel certain that I'll get 17 of them done, plus a few associated works, because 17 happens to be the number I have on hand at the moment. And I've got 18 days left to do it. So, let's get cracking, shall we?
This is a Dragon Award.
No idea if that design is permanent,
but you KNOW you want one.
A LITTLE preliminary. First, there is actually a title for this specific genre, which is news to me. It's SO new to me, that I can't remember it, and I'm not going to look it up, because , hey, it's 10:38 PM where I am, and I want to get to sleep SOMETIME tonight. It's "flintlock something," though, if that's any help. Second, this book CAN be read as a stand alone, but I REALLY, don't recommend it for two reasons. the first book, Witchy Eye, has got some AMAZINGLY beautiful language in it that I wouldn't want anyone to miss. Secondly, for those not QUITE so fascinated by the beauty of describing thousands of years of catfish trails, this is a COMPLEX book. There are so many characters (and they aren't just throw-aways, either) that you might feel like you need a scorecard, and the plot has so many sub-plots, you might feel lost if you don't read the first installment. Click that link up there, about two or three sentences ago, okay?
A TINY background. It's an alternate timeline, set in North America, around 1820 or so. Technology is appropriate for the age, except that magic works, and in addition to human people, there are a large, but indeterminate.number of Beast Folk, who have a mix of human and animal features. Nothing like the United States exists, but many of the historical characters appear in modified roles. Napoleon is a convert to Islam, for example; Ben Franklin was a combination magician/mystic/scientist, and Andrew Jackson was executed for piracy. The North American continent is carved up into enclaves, and schoolchildren learn songs to memorize which enclaves have the ability to send representatives to the sort-of advisory board to the emperor.
A SHORT review. Sarah is the unacknowledged niece of the emperor, who wants her dead. She had been hiding out in the Appalachian area, with no knowledge of her history, until her powers are revealed, and she discovers that she can see into spiritual realms with her right eye. because the emperor is an ass, she decides she will attempt to reclaim her real father's throne, which has been vacant since his death 15 years ago. She discovers that she is one of triplets, and that her brother and sister were also hidden from the nasty emperor, and their tales began to be woven into hers.
The emperor squeezes more taxes, and sends agents to kill the triplets, and talks to the ghost of his ancestor, and kills people who miff him. Don't miff the emperor if he's a jerk. Just sayin'.
What's great. Butler has a real gift for description. The opening scene to 'Witchy Eye' makes you feel, and smell, and taste the atmosphere in a country market; and he just keeps putting out scene after scene like that.
He also puts some really great dialogue in the characters' mouths, and that in itself makes it worth reading the book. I'm not sure exactly how it's done, but somehow, he had me feeling sympathetic to some REALLY bad people. It's not all 'good guys' and 'bad guys,' either; just like real flesh and blood people, his literary people have some pretty complex motivations and emotions.
And, you HAVE to love the amount of content you get in this book, in terms of the well-crafted sub-plots. I want to tell you about the loyal beastwife's bravery, and her beautiful singing voice, although she does tend to moo when she really gets into song; the wicked bishop of New Orleans who weeps for his dead father; the father who leaves his family to find a healer for his son. SO many good stories here!
I really can't say enough about the complexity of the world-building Butler does, The way he describes a society which is basically determined by about six or seven competing religions is something I don't think I've ever seen.
What's awful. Nothing is awful; that's just a book blog version of click-bait. Nothing is even mediocre. It DOES require more investment on the part of the reader than the average novel, because there are so many storylines, and he has taken the physical world we live in, and reshaped it, but that's not a bug, it's a feature. And, at 592 pages, I was hard pressed to finish this in 24 hours.
This is going to be a TOUGH category for people to pick a clear winner. I'm just glad I decided to undertake this project, else I might have missed something. If 'Witchy Winter' wins, I'm gonna be one of those people saying, 'yeah, I can absolutely understand that.'
Peace be on your household.