They say that every literary recipe has been made, that every menu theme has been explored, and that’s true. But as they say, the devil really is in the details. While the recipes and themes have been told, there are always new ingredients and new elements that can inject a fresh, delicious filling to an old theme. Often, in modern fiction, we do this by fusing genres and recipes, taking elements from a variety of meals and turning it into a fresh one. So, after that long preamble, we get to today’s meal, Witchy Eye, an alternate-history epic fantasy 19th-century historical fiction tale by D.J. Butler. Does Mr. Butler find new life with this fusion dish or does it fall like a bad souffle?
Before we prime our pistols, let’s recite the oath of the Starving Reviewer:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
To figure that out, let’s focus our culinary dissection on some of the key elements of the recipe, as on all minor (but important) points of wordsmithing, the chef performs an exemplary job. So instead of worrying about editing, proofing, and general wordcraft, our attention is going to center on three critical aspects: world-building (a key ingredient to any fantastical world), pacing (a common stumbling block for the ‘epic’ writer), and characters (the core ingredient of any tale).
In terms of world-building, well, I confess that I must lower my chef’s hat to Mr. Butler. Witchy is based, as noted above, in an altered 19th century America. Naturally, this has been done before, but not in so drastic a fashion. As opposed to the usual ‘one moment in time’ change, this world is one that has seen a cascade of changes, incredibly well-thought out ones. Every fantasy element is intricately woven into this changed history, with time take to look at not only surface changes, but deep alterations of culture, racial dynamics, and religion. The amount of research had to have been staggering and the end result is a world that is both familiar yet new and fantastic at the same time. Extra bonus points for a delightfully tasty magic system that both aligns with the idea of natural law while leaving layers of creamy mystery for the future.
Now all those fluffy layers of world-building cake would be wasted if the plot wasn’t well-told or, more importantly for our analysis, well-paced. When serving up such an immense cake, it’s easy to wind up adding too many layers, mixing too many ingredients, until what should be a delectable dessert transforms into a throat-clogging lump of undigestable sweetness. To make it simple. more is not always better and the need to transfer so much information can turn a well-paced plot into a sluggish plodding trip filled with info-dump after info-dump. Again, Mr. Butler dodges this pitfall. There is always forward momentum in Witchy, even in its slow moments of rest and retrospection, and every bit of the narrative works towards pushing the story forward or adding necessary time to let the characters breathe and develop.
Which segues us nicely into our last point: the characters. I just recently posted on Facebook that the measure of a good book is coming to relate to the characters to such a degree that you find yourself with tears at their misfortunes and smiles at their triumphs. So many literary sins can be forgiven if a chef can deliver that critical ingredient, to make me as a reader care for his/her characters. In this sense, Mr. Butler delivers on every possible front. The trials and tribulations of Witchy’s characters brought me to tears multiple times and delivered as many triumphant smiles. Really, what more needs to be said?
To sum it all up, Witchy Eye is an epic flintlock fantasy that delivers rich, flavorful characters and adventure with every bite! If you have any love of fantasy, alternate history tales, or any kind of epic adventure, you must read this one. I’d also recommend this one to anyone interested in American history and folk tales, as Mr. Butler does some fascinating things with his alternate takes on many famous and obscure figures. Enjoy, my literary foodies, as this is a good one! Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!
FINAL VERDICT: ***** (An epic flintlock fantasy that delivers rich, flavorful characters and adventure with every bite!)