SciFi Monkeys and TANSTAAFL Press brings you a review of
The Witches of the Dark Root by April Aasheim
Overall Grade: B-
Full disclosure: don’t ask me why but I started reading this book expecting not to like it. Don’t ask me why. I like witch stories. The cover didn’t set me off. I like female authors. I just had a negative start. Maybe it was just because I had a broken foot. I don’t know but I feel like sharing my prejudices so you have information to base good decisions on for you.
With this in mind the story whipsawed me back and forth. It spent a significant amount of time in a secondary thread that really didn’t seem to be a part of the story and really didn’t come with any force at all even in the end. The middle of the book rocked. It moved quickly along, brought a good story and even several decent issues for our heroine to overcome. And then the end seemed like someone got too tired and just wrapped things up as quickly as possible. The flow seemed the opposite of most novels I read which normally have a good beginning, lackadaisical middle, and awesome wrap-up. This one had a beginning that left questions never resolved, a middle that kept me turning the pages instead of taking care of issues like.. eating or going to the bathroom.. and the end was just like “What happened to the rest of the book?”
Our heroine, Maggie, is one of four sisters born to a powerful witch in Dark Root, Oregon. Sasha, her mother, is a diva of the first order and being a mother is not her first priority; protecting the earth against the darkness is. As the girls grow up and develop their own minor powers, the four daughters all are waiting for their opportunity to get out and away from a home life that isn’t warm and fuzzy.
At her majority, Maggie meets a prophet who has his own religion. She falls in love, becoming his common law wife and his priestess. This lasts for several years until her enthusiasm wanes and another beautiful woman beguiles her man. Finding them en flagrante delecto she leaves him and goes home. There she finds her mother has lost her mind, and the small town has suffered with her decline. Her sisters descending on the failing town to support their mother but to face the fears of their childhood. When they find that their mother has been put under a spell they realize that they must fight together as a coven and maybe even revitalize the town in order to make her well again.
Maggie is a lovely complex character. Her relationships with her sisters, mother, men, and even magic, all regularly boil in her thoughts and influences decisions she makes, even if she chooses wrong. She works so hard to protect herself and keep within a shell while everything around her is tearing her shell apart. Great character!
The setting of Dark Root, Oregon is so incredible I didn’t even look it up to see if it was real. I’m afraid I might be disappointed. The town was so well described that I couldn’t believe how realistic it developed my own image of the small town that seemed haunted both in a traditional ghostly way but also in the loss of the mother and her daughters. I just want to take a mental picture of this and set it next to my computer as an example of HOW to create a setting for my future writing.
The flashbacks did an exceptional job of changing the age voice of the characters so that they were still recognizably their older selves, but making decisions and thinking like their younger selves. This is NOT a trivial task and April has done a great job!
The writing itself was very good. I never felt I didn’t know what was happening. I felt the dialogue was decent if not sparkling every time.
NOT SO GOOD:
I’d sum up just about everything I’m going to say below in the following, this novel failed to “Tell me a good story.”
The entire beginning of the novel I felt was a waste of words. If it had been cut down or made flashbacks, I would have been much happier. It really didn’t establish anything that couldn’t have been quickly described. Even the later full circle plot didn’t live up to its billing, nor was it completely dealt with.
None of the antagonists in this piece really seemed like a significant problem and the revitalization of the town seemed much too easy.
The end of the novel just seemed to peter out. The big showdown never really amounts to much and isn’t fully resolved. It, like, solves the top 20% of the issues and then ended. What? It would be like Luke and Vader meeting and the fight was like ten seconds long, Luke’s hand is cut off and then the movie ends. Or another comparison would be Forrest Gump only doing one of his amazing things, roll credits. Pouty face.