David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything. Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.
Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.
Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.
Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil
Is there a genre between magical realism and full-on fantasy? If there isn’t, I think this book makes a good case for one. Like Suffer the Children did for vampire novels, this is very much a tale of witches, but one rather firmly grounded in reality. It’s first and foremost a story of a family. It just happens that the family is one made of witches, whom for fear of harming themselves or others, have actively avoided practicing magic out of a combination of deliberateness and, in some cases, ignorance.
This is a tale of fundamentally flawed people. David had an affair, David’s company suffered a great setback from which there is no recovery and he only told his wife when more or less forced to by a spell cast by her parents. His wife Amanda isn’t necessarily better: she’s a control freak and she deliberately erased David’s knowledge of both his childhood and his magic to “protect” him – against his will. As much as this is a tale of witches, it’s a tale of a family falling apart and trying to come back together again. Because Sharon focuses on the family first, the story works.
The magic here is earth-and-incantation based. Every witch has a “season” to them. Summer witches – those born between the equinoxes are “good” witches. Winter witches- David and his family (the series name gets its title from the fact that David, his wife, and most of their children, save one are winter witches) are “evil” whose natural magical is aligned with destruction. Spring and autumn witches are somewhere in the middle. I do like that the “evil” of this book isn’t Voldemort style evil. It’s more the destruction (hence the title) we can do with both magic and it’s unintended consequences. We don’t really see much of the society, and it’s fitting because the text makes it quite clear that they don’t tend to congregate. Besides, much of the story is the family more or less discovering magic so it never really feels like you’re being cheated out of anything or that the author didn’t develop her system. We know enough for what the story needs, and that is enough.
Before I wrap up, I just want to use this book to make a point about book length. I criticized Witch Song for padding out it’s length – that was a 250 page book stretched out to 300 pages for no apparent reason other than the author seemed to feel like she was afraid to let her story end at its natural conclusion. Bayliss had no such qualms here. This book, while short at 236 pages (the remainder of the book is actually a tease for an entirely different story), feels entirely whole. She told the story she intended to tell and let the novel go with grace. I absolutely can enjoy a long read when the novel can sustain it, but not all can and I applaud the author for not forcing it. Plus, at a list price of $5 for the Kindle edition, it’s still a good value.
The last thing I want to mention is the cover. This is pretty much one of those ‘don’t judge a book by it’ situations. Although Curiosity Quills Press is not a vanity/self-publishing firm, it’s small enough that in some ways, it’s only a step up from that and you can tell in the quality of the cover. I’m guessing the butterfly is supposed to be some kind of reference to The Butterfly Effect, because it otherwise doesn’t make sense, and the font choice just looks cheap. Still, I’d say that authors who think their books are good enough to publish, but are having trouble gaining a foothold from a Big Six publisher might want to look here. They’ve put out some pretty good titles and you are almost always better off starting with a very small publisher like this than self-publishing. You probably have as good a chance to win the lotto as you do to make the leap from self-published to traditionally published.
At the end of the day, Bayliss tells a fairly quiet story well, and if you’re looking for a bit of a different witch story, this may do the trick for you.
Verdict: Buy it