The Witch Hunter / The Healer

The Witch Hunter + The Healer

Please note that I am reviewing The Witch Hunter based on an advanced reader copy that I received from Netgalley. In light of this, I’m aware that some details may have changed prior to publication.

The Witch Hunter was first published in 2015 and is Virginia Boecker’s debut novel. It is a fantasy story set in a country not too dissimilar to Tudor England which has been torn apart by witch burnings. The author has also published a short novella titled The Healer which is set in the same universe and is currently available to purchase on Amazon in eBook format only.

Elizabeth Grey is the only female witch hunter in the whole of Anglia. Although she should be proud of this fact, lately she has been failing in her duties. Witches who would have once been easy for her to capture are escaping and her childhood friend Caleb is forced to cover for Elizabeth again and again to hide her ineptitude. Caleb doesn’t understand why Elizabeth has changed so much but Elizabeth can’t enlighten him. It’s a secret that she must carry to the grave.

When Elizabeth is caught possessing magical herbs and branded as a witch, she is sure that Caleb will come and rescue her from prison before her burning. However, as days tick by and fever grips her, her rescuer comes in a different form.

Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful wizard in all of Anglia and leader of the revolutionaries, appears in her cell and carries her to safety. It turns out that Nicholas’s seer has foretold that only Elizabeth can save him from a painful and lingering death. Now Elizabeth has a difficult choice to make. Does she help save the life of her arch enemy or trade him to the High Inquisitor for a chance to redeem herself?

Before I begin my review of The Witch Hunter, I think I should just say a few short words about The Healer. I decided that I’d also take a look at this novella as Goodreads advised that it was a prequel. While this is technically true, I would strongly advise that you read The Witch Hunter first. The Healer is more of a companion story that retells the first few chapters of The Witch Hunter from John’s perspective. While I do struggle a little to see the point of this novella as it doesn’t really offer anything new to the mix, it also reveals a couple of spoilers (including John’s backstory and the nature of the danger that threatens Nicholas), which could impede your enjoyment of the first book.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about The Witch Hunter. I’ve commented a few times over the course of running this blog about how blurbs don’t always provide an honest representation of what a book is going to be like. Just take a look at how this novel is represented on Goodreads or Amazon. It has a very striking cover and a blurb that promises a feisty and competent assassin forced to make a deal with her worst enemy. This sounds awesome! It’s the only reason that I requested a copy of this book from Netgalley in the first place. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

The novel is well written and has few errors in the grammatical sense but beyond this it just falls flat. The plot had so much potential and the first few chapters were dark and enthralling. After this, the witch burning plot just seemed to crumble away and was replaced by a very standard young adult novel, complete with a love triangle, the obligatory need to attend parties and misunderstandings that would never have occurred if everyone had just been honest from the start.

The actual plot of the novel is wafer thin. I spent most of the story anticipating a clever twist but it turned out that everything in the story is just to be taken at face value. The people who appear villainous are villains, the people who seem good are good and the seer’s prophecy plays out exactly as you would expect (despite the fact that the characters magnificently misinterpret sections of it). Oh, and deus ex machinas resolve everything. I think I counted at least five over the course of the story which makes a new record for this blog.

For a novel that could have been very exciting, it actually quickly became rather dull and I struggled to keep my focus while reading. Even the world building was virtually nonexistent. The story could have been dark and deeply political, focusing on the inner workings of society and the ambition of certain key players. This unfortunately did not happen. Instead, Boecker presents a world which makes little sense. In Anglian society, witches are seen as being bad while witch hunters (who also use magic) are portrayed as being good. Meanwhile, normal humans hate everyone who isn’t a normal human and, while they hate witchcraft, they also don’t approve of the monarchy’s decision to execute the captured witches. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It felt a bit like the author had one idea but then changed her mind halfway through writing.

Yet worse still were the characters. Most of these were pretty stock and lacked any real heart. The two love interests, Caleb and John, were typical tropes of YA literature – the handsome bad boy/ladies’ man and the chap who is harmless but fairly bland. Beyond these, Elizabeth’s circle of friends includes the funny guy and the girl who starts out bitchy but eventually warms to the protagonist. The bad guy is also simply that – an evil sod who is just out to rule Anglia as its dark wizard dictator. None of these characters have any sort of depth and I just found that I didn’t care what happened to them.

And then there is Elizabeth, the largest disappointment of them all. As I said earlier, ignore the blurb that paints Elizabeth as the greatest assassin of all time. In actuality, she’s faintly useless. Within the first few pages of the story it’s revealed that she rarely does anything right and has become infamous for cocking up even the most simple of missions. While she does have a couple of moments of glory later in the story, she largely exists to be rescued as a lot of dangers in the story are only resolved by the deus ex machinas. She is also a bit of an idiot. She lives in a world where she knows full well that possessing magical herbs or artefacts counts as witchcraft is punishable by death, yet she’s horrified that the High Inquisitor orders her burning when she’s legitimately found with a pocket full of magical herbs. Really Elizabeth, you don’t have any sympathy from me.

The novel is also guilty of my personal least favourite plot device and one that I’m sure you all remember hearing me mention over and over again. Rape should never be used for shock value. Ever. I don’t know why some writers use this horrible plot convenience just as something bad that happens to women. Elizabeth is raped an unspecified number of times prior to the start of the story and yet this is only really mentioned in passing. I think I remember it being referenced maybe three times within the story and every time Elizabeth just blushes a bit and changes the subject. It’s not cute and it’s not just a mild embarrassment. It’s a disgusting crime and should have some lasting effect on a character. Rape should only ever be used in a story if it is necessary, if it forms a part of the character’s development to show how they come to terms with it. Just seeing writers use it to shock makes me furious every single time.

Anyhow, I’m starting to rant so it’s time to summarise. If The Witch Hunter had been more like it was advertised, perhaps it would have made for a decent fantasy read but unfortunately it disappointed me on every level. The world building is weak, the plot is very basic and the characters are flat and undeveloped. It’s not really a novel I’d recommend and it’s not really made me want to look out for any more of this author’s work in the future.

The Witch Hunter can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk

The Healer can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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