If you’re like me, you don’t get to read as much as you’d like, or rather, what you read isn’t exactly “for pleasure.” Therefore, when you do have the opportunity to read what you want, you get picky. In my case, that means turning to the works of a rare dozen or so authors who have never failed to engage me in their fictional worlds.
C.C. Finlay is most definitely on that list. There’s an ease to his use of language, a rich tapestry of setting and character that immediately pulls me in, and his stories are always fresh in their plotting. I’ve yet to be disappointed in reading any of his work.
Finlay’s latest historical fantasy novel, The Patriot Witch, provides an extra bonus as it’s set against the rich AND realistic backdrop of America’s struggle for independence (a personal favorite historical period). War is not pretty and Finlay never shies from showing us the clear and dirty details without ever slowing down the story. If you wanted to fight for freedom, more power to you. Don’t have a rifle? Just wait a few moments. Someone else will fall and you can use theirs. If nothing else, Finlay makes it clear that a pragmatic mind is the only thing that keeps you alive in the midst of battle… if you’re lucky.
As it turns out, luck – or to be more specific, MAGIC, may have something to do with staying alive as well.
While there’s ample historic underpinnings to The Patriot’s Witch, the story’s heart lies with Finlay’s protagonist Proctor Brown, a 20 year-old young farmer and minuteman. Proctor learns many a painful lesson in this first part of the Traitor to the Crown trilogy. Coming of age during the American Revolution is one thing. Discovering the dark ugly side of magic is another. Up until the story’s kicked into gear, Proctor’s only exposure to magic is the benign art of scrying – the ability to see into the future (though interpretation is key as he painfully discovers). He soon learns that his dreams of peaceful farming have no place in the harsh realities of a war reaching far beyond the battlegrounds of Lexington and Bunker Hill into the realms of the rights and wrong of magical power.
It is that exploration of what defines right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, which makes up a sizeable portion of this novel. Finlay allows the reader to share in Proctor’s confusion, discovery and realizations by exposing the character to witches loyal to opposing sides in the colonies’ fight for independence. Desperate to hold on to their lands, the Brits will do whatever is necessary… including enlisting witches of dark magic to defeat their enemies. The American witches, however, (ever the underdogs) resist the use of life taking magics, even when it comes at a price.
Yes, there’s a metaphorical element to the story with bad witches as the British (the bad guys) and good witches as the Americans (that would be us good guys). That said, several threads are set up in this first novel that make promise of a more complex, less easily defined sense of good vs. evil. In fact, as fun as this first book was, I’m a bit impatient to start the second one (A Spell for the Revolution) as I’m eager to see how Proctor and the colonies maintain their youthful optimism as the Revolution’s first blush subsides and the harsh realities of fighting a war with limited resources can make the line between good and evil all the thinner.