Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong, Book 11 of the Otherworld Series

The Otherworld series shifts protagonists every book – so we get to see this amazing world from several different angles, it’s one of the things I love most about this series. In this case we follow Savannah, the ward of Paige and Lucas, daughter of the witch/half-demon/ghost Eve Lavine and the incredibly influential Sorcerer Kristof Nast. After following her as a child, we see her now aged 21, working for Paige and Lucas’ investigation firm.

And while they’re out of town she has a case, her first solo case, eager to prove herself and put into action all the training she’s received, she looks to solve the murders of three young women. But, more, as a witch/sorcerer, she also must keep a look out for an occult connection to the case – always aware of the concern of keeping humanity ignorant of the preternatural.

And the case is far from simple –or clear whether the supernatural is involved or not. With so many suspects and so many possibilities – and so many clues leading so many places, it’s hard to keep track – it’s a complicated and knotty tangle to unravel. 

And Savannah is torn between proving herself and acknowledging she needs back up and support – not just for the case but also to deal with the emotional fallout as bodies start to fall

I really like Savannah as a protagonist –I’ve been looking forward to her taking the reins (especially since the last few books featured Elena and Hope who are far from my favourites). We’ve seen Savannah since she was 12 years old and her ups and downs, problems and now, at 21, she’s a very real, fully fleshed out character – and you can see all those events we’ve followed reflected in the person she is. She isn’t a completely different person, but she isn’t the same either, she has grown and developed along reasonable, understandable lines.

And she’s a strong, powerful and extremely confident character. She’s not perfect, she takes risks and is reckless – but I don’t think her recklessness crosses the line into Spunky Agency. She is caustic and sarcastic at times – but never to a degree that is utterly unreasonable and caricature-like. It’s a great balance – and I think it’s a character a lot of authors aim to portray but hardly ever get right

I was worried about how she would be treated, especially since the Otherworld series has a bad track record when it comes to Super Damsels. I was especially worried when Savannah was stripped of her power (still not massively enamoured of that, that this ultra-strong character had to be so weakened) but while she was imperilled she did manage to rescue herself (more or less) and not need saving which I’m much much happier about. Savannah kicks arse, she doesn’t need rescuing, she rescues other people.

I also have some concerns with her issues. Not because they’re wrong. Her issues are reasonable – she has seen a lot of pain and loss and a lot of that has been connected to her (not because it was her fault, but because her unique abilities put her in demand. Bad people have repeatedly targeted her for them and innocent people around her have suffered because of it). It is reasonable to have these feelings of guilt and responsibility, especially when coming from such a powerful, in control, self-assured person. Her issues are really well portrayed and balanced and I like the representation. What I do worry about is how these issues may be resolved – and I fear in a future book they may be cured by the magical love of a good man, a trope I’m not fond of.

Speaking of the love of a good man – I don’t think Adam and Savannah work – and if that is actually going to develop into a relationship – I’m not sure how happy I am with Adam entering a relationship with a woman he’s known since she was 12 (and one who has maintained a crush on him since then) but that could be my issue. They do bounce off each other very well as friends and colleagues, they have fun, they’re very real, they have a very fraternal relationship – they make great siblings.
I’m avoiding spoilers but I am discontent with how Eve Lavine’s “weakness” has been repeatedly exploited in the series now. I dislike how it has become her greatest weakness and what that says about her as a woman and a mother.

Storywise, I’m impressed. This story had a twist. And a twist and a twist and another twist. I didn’t see the ending, didn’t predict it and the mystery was pretty damned mysterious right up to the end. In fact it was even more mysterious than that because there are still unanswered questions. Unusual for an Otherworld book, this book didn’t close all the issues and there’s some major ones to be resolved – and developed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mystery where the clues are there (more or less, especially if you’ve read the previous books) but the ending was such a surprise and unexpected. It kept me engaged, curious and, yes, confused (but in a good way) throughout the book.
Inclusion-wise, the book (well, the series) is lacking – well, totally lacking. I will give the nod that while the book contained Santeria and other minority religions, it very firmly presented them as that, religions and strong disparaged the idea that they were threatening, wrong, evil or dangerous – repeatedly and firmly. It’s refreshing, especially in urban fantasy when such religions, when they appear, are usually there for the sake of extra woo-woo and, quite often, a lot of menace.

I liked this book – I liked the series in general and this one stands out among them. I love Savannah as a protagonist, I loved the story, it was well done and I was happy to sit down and devour it in one session.  I’m eager for the next book because of the cliffhanger and to see more of Savannah, but I’m also vaguely nervous because of the way this book ended. It could be awesome, it could be awful.