I could tell you a witch’s spell, but you just might blow your top; and you start to run just as I’m having fun, and it’s awfully hard to stop. Let’s rouse Waking the Witch, by Kelley Armstrong.
At twenty-one, Savannah Levine-orphaned daughter of a notorious dark witch and an equally notorious cutthroat sorcerer-considers herself a full-fledged member of the otherworld. The once rebellious teen has grown into a six-foot-tall, motorcycle-riding jaw-dropper, with an impressive knowledge of and ability to perform spells. The only problem is, she’s having a hard time convincing her adoptive parents, Paige and Lucas, to take her seriously as an adult. She’s working as the research assistant at the detective agency they founded, and when they take off on a romantic vacation alone, leaving her in charge, Savannah finds herself itching for a case to call her own. (She’s also itching for Adam, her longtime friend and colleague, to see her as more than just a little girl, but that’s another matter.)
Suddenly, Savannah gets the chance she’s been waiting for: Recruited by another supernatural detective, she travels to Columbus, Washington, a small, dying town. Two troubled young women have been found in an abandoned warehouse, murdered. Now a third woman’s dead, and on closer inspection small details point to darker forces at play. Savannah feels certain she can handle the case, but with signs of supernatural activity appearing at every turn, things quickly become more serious- and far more dangerous-than she realizes.
Savannah Levine: how she’s grown. Introduced to the Women of the Otherworld series as a mere child, she has now grown into a young adult ready for a book of her own. She’s high on my list of favorite characters, so I was really digging her first foray as main character. The story premise seemed slightly odd to me, as there didn’t really seem to be anything all that supernatural about the murders she was investigating, but she’s a strong enough character that I was willing to go with it and see where things led. And hey, give her props: even if it was a lot closer to an ordinary non-supernatural detective story than is typical for an urban fantasy book, I really enjoyed reading about her tracking down leads, questioning suspects, and just generally investigating the hell out of this huge tangled mess of murder, corruption, infidelity, drug dealing, cultism, and general small-town hick-sheriff incompetence.
The resolution is where things went south, however. There actually being two killers is a genuine clever twist: the initial murders of Ginny and Brandi were actually a purely human matter, and a clever witch-hunter decided to take advantage of the killer going uncaught and conceal the true nature of her own murders by making them look like the work of the same unsub. Hiding your crimes by making them look like a continuation of a unrelated, pre-existing matter is a classic strategy, one which was memorably used to great effect by Takano. Miyo Takano, I mean; not Zoe Takano. (You thought I wouldn’t find I way to make a Zoe Takano reference in this review – but you were wrong! I shall never cease my flagellation of that deceased equine!).
In any case, while two unrelated killers might be reasonable, bringing in a third murderer – also entirely unconnected to the other two – really starts to seem contrived. And having that third murderer be suddenly revealed, with no build-up whatsoever, as the vengeful ghost of a villain from a previous book, who escaped hell off-screen while nobody was looking, but it was actually totally common knowledge that she was at large, it’s just that everybody conveniently forgot to mention it until after the reveal had already taken place… captain, our suspension of disbelief is giving it all she’s got, but she cannae take much more of this!
The book ends on two cliffhangers. One, the witch-hunter villain managed to slip away without being caught: perhaps so the protagonists’ pursuit of her can continue into the next book, or perhaps so she can suddenly reappear when we least expect it, or perhaps, just possibly, to completely disappear and just inexplicably never have her subplot be resolved or mentioned again, like those fox maiden women or that shapeshifter guy. (Though I must admit to conflicted feelings about that shapeshifter guy. On the one hand, it offends my sense of closure, to so blatantly set up him escaping from prison and returning as an antagonist only for it to never happen. On the other hand, he was probably the series’ second-lamest villain, right behind Mr. Not-Really-Jack-the-Ripper, so I’m not really rooting for his return, either. Really, a footnote saying that it just so happened that he slipped in the shower and died offscreen would be the best outcome here. Hey, if a villain can escape from hell and come back to life offscreen…)
The other cliffhanger is Savannah seemingly losing her magic in exchange for hitting a big ole reset button on Kayla, or something like that; it’s really not entirely clear. I’m actually going to have to lay the blame on Savannah for this one, for she flagrantly violated one of the most sacred rules of the genre: in any urban fantasy book with a female protagonist, when the protagonist meets the adorable little orphan girl (and make no mistake, she will always eventually meet one), she must experience an awakening of her maternal instincts and decide to adopt the orphan girl as her own child. It would have been poetic justice, for Savannah herself was the poor orphan girl to Paige. Things would have come full circle, the adopted becoming the adoptee. But no, she decided to go the whole casual-wish-gets-unexpectedly-granted route instead; so we’ll be dealing with the fallout from that next time, I guess.
Whatever. I’m probably being overly nitpicky. Honestly, I did enjoy it just fine while I was reading it; it was only afterwards that all the problems started weighing on my mind and caused my poor, abused suspension of disbelief to collapse. I guess that taken as a whole, it’s probably a fine enough book, for the most part.
Final Rating: 3/5