Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

Imagine if you will a nameless witch cursed with beauty, the inability to die and a hunger for flesh.  Such a life would not be an easy one and indeed, for our nameless witch, it means a tortured childhood filled with little but neglect until she is found by her mentor.  Time passes as it does and our witch wakes to discover that today is the day her mentor is going to die.  The witch now has a choice to make, she can seek revenge for the one person she ever loved, in the process taking on a quest that will force her to confront her true nature, perhaps find love and actually die, or she can take a different road. Nothing is ever simple in the life of a nameless witch, even with companions like a demon duck, a troll, an animated broom and an honest to goodness White knight for a love interest, events might demand more from her witchly nature that she can possibly defeat.

As you might have guessed from my synopsis, A Nameless Witch is quirky and ridiculously delightful.  It is clearly set in an alternate world because the witch, does not cause much of a concern to the residents of Fort Stalwart.  The humans are in fact more concerned that the witch just might be a prostitute in disguise because the prostitutes outnumber the men 3:1 and this of course has over saturated the market.  Since the economy of  Fort Stalwart is largely based in prostitution, one can easily see how this is a problem.  

The nameless witch is a fascinating protagonist.   Though she is a witch who consumes raw meat and has a forked tongue, she is cursed with beauty.  Her hair shines, her breasts are perky and her behind round and firm.  The nameless witch goes to much effort to hide her curse by covering herself in dirt, ugly clothing and affecting a limp.  The beauty she despises makes her quest to live a good witchly life difficult. Through it all, people still see through her mask, making her more determined to hide. I found this to be quite the interesting twist on the well known trope of the beautiful woman bemoaning her perfect ddd breast size.

There are three strong female characters in this novel.  The relationship between the nameless witch and Sunrise while loving, does fixate far too much on the the nameless witch's infatuation with Wyst.  That means that it does not come close to passing the Bechdel Test.  Though we are told that the Nameless Witch and Ghastly Edna have a long relationship, we don't actually see them spend much time together.  We are however are informed throughout the novel about the lessons which Ghastly Edna taught her protege and its clear that the love between the two women is strong.  

There is a thread of romance running through the novel but it never overtakes the story.  Wyst, the White knight, is an absolute take down of the trope. He subsists on water and bread, bound to his virtue in order to maintain his powers.  The nameless witch is his temptation and quite possibly his downfall.  We are continually reminded that Wyst is far more than what a knight is meant to be and that the man constantly lurks beneath the surface.  I find this to be an interesting take on the trope.  Wyst of course wants to rescue the nameless witch but he cannot by nature of what they both are. 

The other two characters of note are Newt the demon duck and Gwurm the troll.  Though each brought much to the story, there were moments when they took on the form of comic relief.  For almost every situation, Gwurm has a story to tell, especially if it comes from a friend of a friend.  I loved Martinez's play on urban legends. Gwurm carries a fannypack which contains spare parts; one might never know when a new nose is needed after all and his unmentionables because in the pack they can be kept warm.   Newt is constantly ruled by his demon side thirsted for blood and quite enjoys snarking at the Nameless Witch each time she forgets herself and behaves in a manner he deems unwitchly

If a quirky story filled with ridiculousness is your thing, A Nameless Witch would well fit the bill.  In terms of race and sexuality, it is sorely erased and while this erasure is problematic, it is far too often the norm.  I found myself laughing out loud and wondering where the strange quest of vengeance would take this unlikely alliance next.  It is very easy to get lost in this world, where simply unimagining that which provokes or threatens a character is enough to make it disappear.  Martinez plays with the idea of what reality is and how it effects the nature of one's identity and this was accomplished with great wit.  A Nameless Witch, despite its penchant for the ridiculous, is actually quite smart story telling and it saddens me that it is yet another stand alone book from Martinez.  I would love to have seen what kind of series could  have been birthed by these interesting characters.