Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review: Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong

First, I must admit that I've not ever been a big reader of mass market science fiction. Books like the Sookie Stackhouse series or anything by Laurell K. Hamilton never really interested me. I've always been interested in more high fantasy: Tolkien, Rowling (yes, Rowling), Lewis, etc. That being said I was given the opportunity, recently, to review two books - this review is about the first.

Waking the Witch is the newest novel from Kelley Armstrong. It is the 11th book in her Women of the Otherworld series. Armstrong is famous for her mass market sci-fi success, and her books include pretty much every species of mythical beast you can think of. (My apologies to prepositions everywhere.) But, I have to be very honest, before being sent this book for review I'd never heard of Kelley Armstrong. Sure I've seen her books around, but neither the name nor the book titles ever stuck with me. So I wasn't familiar with the rich, inviting world of vampires, witches, werewolves, and the like that Armstrong had created.

This can be quite good, though, when reviewing a book. I have nothing to compare it to. I can't say, "Well, this book doesn't have the same appeal that her others do," or, "Her latest book is her absolute best!" I'm walking - or, rather, reading - into this with a clean slate. That being said, let's get to the review!

My rating system goes in torches - or pitchforks depending on what word comes out of my mouth when I'm giving it. 5 torches is perfect, 1 is to be avoided like the plague, and everything else falls in between. Now, what's different about me is that I actually have broken down my reviews (from now on) into 5 sections. Books have to earn their respective torches here at the Riot. The 5 categories are: Technicals (like grammar and such), Obtuse/Obscure (how difficult it is to get into a book or its readability), Characters (character development and richness), Memorable (how likely I am to mull the book over in my head or recommend the book), Story (the overall quality of the text).


  • Technicals - Okay, I hate to sound like this right off the bat, but you should know that I'm removing this torch immediately. From the first page there were serious grammatical issues with this book. I don't know if Armstrong's editor took the week off when her book came through, but her sentence fragments and dangling articles made it difficult to read. One of the functions of punctuation is to give pause in the rhythm of the text, and when it is misused the readability of the book becomes muddled. I could go on and on about poor grammar, but I will say that once I got over that hump I found it a pretty easy read. However, it took a while. Torch so not earned.
  • Obtuse/Obscure - Sure there were 10 books published in this series. Sure there's a whole history with these characters and a story that's been going on for 10 years, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the book. I didn't need to know the backstory, because Armstrong's writing style is such that this story is complete unto itself. It also helps that the main character is one that Armstrong admits she's never explored as a protagonist before. This is exactly what a series should be: each book a complete story that merely touches upon the overarching storyline. It is also what a mass market paperback should be. It's easy to pick up and put down, because it invites you into the world Armstrong has created. Torch definitely earned.
  • Characters - As I said, I didn't have to have spend 10 years with these characters to know them. Armstrong does a nearly perfect job of giving you all the pertinent details of their history, while also making the characters relatable. I could see them, hear them, understand where they were coming from. Now, were they the deepest characters ever to be written? Maybe not, but they were human. (Well, mostly.) There was a campy quality to the characters as well. The sheer number of witches and demons and mention of even more kinds of supernatural beings could be a bit much at times, though it was tempered with good story-telling. Torch earned!
  • Memorable - In the realm of fantasy novels that I've read, I will be honest and say that Armstrong's latest offering isn't something new. It's the same mishmash of folklore, mystery, magic, and superstition-turned-flesh that many of the other mass market paperbacks offer. While it is entertaining, it doesn't break any new ground. The plot also wasn't unique enough that I was left mulling it over, though I did think about it a bit. (Especially that twist at the end!) However, this doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend the book to a friend. For the market that it's in, I would definitely have no problem giving this book half a torch for memorability due to its summer read/page-turner quality. It doesn't require a lot to read this book. It's a quick, easy read that's perfect for a road trip or a day by the pool. Torch halfway earned!
  • Story - The most important part of any book is its story, its plot. Waking the Witch kept me turning pages and hungry for the next chapter. It is an engrossing story about a young woman who is the daughter of some pretty powerful supernatural folks that goes off to the Pacific Northwest to solve a murder mystery. It's a coming of age story, a love story, a mystery, and a fun little romp in the world of the supernatural. The twists and turns come at just the right time, and they're welcome if not a bit predictable. Though, to be fair, if you've read a lot of mysteries there really isn't much that can surprise the astute reader. I also have to consider the context and audience for this book when judging the quality of the story in order to be fair. The story is simple enough to fit right in with other light summer fair. It doesn't ask for much of an investment, but it gives a nice return. All in all, this torch was earned due to the story's engaging quality that grabs you from the first paragraph. (If not a great deal campy and unbelievable at times, though that is to be expected when nearly every character is some sort of half-demon, ultra-powerful witch creature. Thus, Armstrong is forgiven.) I will say the cliffhanger will make it essential to purchase book 12 whenever Armstrong publishes it in 2011.
Rioters, if you've been adding it all up, that's 3 1/2 Torches from me for Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong

The verdict: While there are definitely some technical issues, and the story and characters are a bit simplistic, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun summer mystery delving heavily into the supernatural. 

Are YOU excited to read this book? Get it for cheap through Amazon.com and let me know what you think about this book. Should I pick up the rest of Armstrong's series? Let me know with a comment, a tweet, or an email to IncitingARiotPodcast@gmail.com! 

One last thing: A big thank you goes out to Elena Stokes of Wunderkind PR for supplying me with this fantastic book! I hope to work with you more in the future! If you're an author, and you're wanting to get the word out about your book, check out Elena's public relations company.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

2 comments:

  1. Thats awesome that they are sending you books to review =D

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  2. I definitely recommend picking up the rest of Kelley's books and her short stories online are great. I have been reading them for years and I love these characters, especially Clay a very anti-social, "psycho" werewolf, who you are introduced to in the first two books of the series.

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