The Witch Awakening
by Karen Nilsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Witch Awakening / 978-1-45151-969-3
I really thought I was past the age of recklessly staying up all night to finish a book, but today I find myself sleepy-but-satisfied, having stayed up far to late to finish "The Witch Awakening".
When author Nilsen first sent me a copy of her book to review, I had expected from the title that the book would fall into the "witch fiction" genre, not unlike several others in my collection, most recently "Daughters of the Witching Hill". I was surprised, however, and delighted to find that "The Witch Awakening" is a rare genre-defying masterpiece, combining the best elements of "witch fiction", historical romance, fantasy, and - delightfully out of left field - a touch of suspense and intrigue.
It's an unusual book that so beautifully blends so many separate elements of genre fiction into a masterful whole such as this, with the end result being an epic novel that brings something to the table for every reader. The romance angle - an element that I usually avoid in fiction - is pulled off perfectly, with both the heroine and hero being superbly likable and satisfyingly "Genre Savvy", to the point that they never descend into stupidity to advance the plot. The historical fiction and fantasy elements are carefully blended to provide a setting that somewhat resembles a European court romance, but with enough of a fantastical setting to make the entire backdrop fresh and new (and to allow the historians to relax and not fret over any small "inaccuracies" in court decorum). Of the "witch fiction" elements and the magical suspense elements, "The Witch Awakening" stands out from the crowd with a heroine who doesn't fear to use her talents (and doesn't angst constantly over her gift/curse), and yet doesn't go the other direction and become absurdly over-powerful in the process - if anything, the "talents" on display here seem very much like what a 'real' witch would be able to do as a supernaturally talented and yet still very human woman.
More than anything else, "The Witch Awakening" is truly delightful for the masterful writing employed here. The prose is perfect - detailed and meaningful without ever getting bogged down or tiresome, and with dialogue that is truly delightful to read. The characters are superbly realistic and three-dimensional - each and every 'villain' has a deeper side to their story, and every hero or supporting character has satisfying shades of gray to their persona. The plot is paced beautifully, with each new event unfolding naturally as a consequence of the characterization, and never do the events feel forced or awkward. And to my delight and relief, the main couple never once in the narrative lose sight of what is truly important in their relationship and their lives, a wise decision on the part of the author that completely cemented my adoration for this novel.
If I had to compare "The Witch Awakening" to something, I would compare it to Philippa Gregory's "The Wise Woman", but as I would the flip side to a coin. Whereas "The Wise Woman" combined fantastical genre elements with historical fiction in order to show the darkest possible side of the humanity, "The Witch Awakening" combines those same elements and deep characterization to show the very best sides of humanity. And where Gregory was able to set up deeply disturbed and well-characterized people and events and allow them to destroy one another in a deconstructive conclusion, Nilsen goes one step further and provides her characters with the means to redeem each other in a truly cathartic and redemptive conclusion that no reader will be able to forget.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through the author.
~ Ana Mardoll
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