Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: The Spirit of a Witch

This was a rather enjoyable story.  The chosen sorts of magic and the world setting are comfortingly familiar.  However, the real star of the show here is the main character's development.

There are two indicated forms of magic in the world setting as presented.  There is the magic of the mages and the magic of the witches.  Given that the main character is a witch and everything that we are shown is stuff that she witnesses, we know the most about the witch's magics.  Witches have a spellbook which is invisible to the eyes of people who aren't witches.  This spellbook fills up with new spells as the witch has need of them.  This is a mechanic rather similar to that used in the Young Wizards series or in El Goonish Shive.  While the spells themselves appear ready to use, the witch still needs to study them and in many cases collect the right ingredients to perform them.  For the most part, witchcraft is divided into white and black magic with white magic being the sort that heals and black magic being the sort that destroys.  For the most part, the magic is of an elemental nature using all five of the classical elements including the oft-forgotten Spirit that is part of the Greek elements.

We know next to nothing of how the magic of the mages works however.

The world setting begins in our own world, but almost immediately moves toward a pre-Renaissance world similar to ancient Britain.  Freemen and women mark their status by wearing a seax, which is a sort of dagger.  There are slaves, called theow, which seem to be based on the serfs of the ancient world.  An exact equivalent century is hard to place, but it is probably sometime in the early AD period.  We don't have much information about the political situation since the story focuses so much on the one isolated village.  I am not certain that there are any extensive nations since banishment seems to remain a punishment of choice.  If there were other villages within easy travel that would be less likely.  Also, visitors from other worlds are not an unknown thing.  The villagers take Briley's appearance with a shrug and are the ones to explain to her that she was pulled from another world.

Briley and Smokey got most, if not all, of the character development in the story.  The remaining characters are fairly static in nature.  This is possibly as a result of the focus on Briley's perspective. Briley spends most of the book in various positions along the spiral of depression.  I know a lot of people who could probably recognize the self-recrimination and self-shaming that comes with the process.  I recognize a lot of it myself, which allowed me to connect on a personal level.  The problem with this is that this sort of depression is very much self-focused since the first response most people on the spiral have is "what is wrong with me" and, as a result, we only have shallow impressions of the other characters. I hope to see this remedied in the future installments.

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