ARC Review: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton


title:  Witch Finder 

author:  Ruth Warburton

pages: 374

format: Kindle ARC

isbn/asin: 978-1444914467

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 3/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Jane Austen, Sharon Cameron (The Dark Unwinding), and Diana Wynne Jones.  Lovers of light fantasy and light romance with a historical bent.  

will i read this author again?:  Yes, for sure.  
will i continue the series?:  I will. I won't rush for it, but I'll definitely keep it on my TBR.  

My Ratings Explained

London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.

take home message
A fun, frivolous fantasy with light romance, British charm, and just enough intrigue and magic.  

the basics
A host of review on Goodreads looks pretty poorly on this little witchy book.  Read them, of course, but keep an open mind.  In my opinion, it was a fun read.  I'd even compare it to the great Diana Wynne Jones.  Warburton isn't quite polished enough to battle with the great one yet, but her work shows some of the characteristics I love in Jones.  Whimsical language and events.  Light romance that's more icing than cake.  Witty British humor and flavor.  Warburton also brings some hints of Jane Austen, with the plot focused around duty and marriage, the Victorian sensibilities, the historical detail, the ornate writing.  Some suspension of disbelief is required, but I did not have the same reaction to the plot as others did.  Some despised the sexism or found the plot languid or incoherent.  I actually really enjoyed this book, enough to cling to the pages many minutes after I meant to be asleep.  I found the plot a good mix of personal responsibilities and the larger witchy intrigue.  I enjoyed the characters, and perhaps read into them.  I also bought the romance entirely, particularly given the precursor of Austen and the other Victorians.  It's not the first such novel I'd recommend, but I think fans of light fantasy and historical works will enjoy it.  

plot . 3/5
Luke is a new member of a prestigious witch-hunting society.  To become a full member, he must kill a random witch from the book of names.  That witch is Rosa, a highbred girl from a family in financial decline, forced into courtship to save the family through a rich match.  As Rosa's family's new stablehand, Luke is poised to kill his quarry.  Maybe.  Eventually.  Many reviewers found the plot weak, but I found it entertaining.  We switch between Rosa and Luke and their different, changing problems.  Rosa is being given to the wealthy Sebastian, a match favored by her greedy brother and mother.  He terrifies her, but she knows that without wealth, her family will fall into disgrace and she will be a spinster under her brother's power.  Escape means choosing a different master.  Her growing, ambivalent relationship with Sebastian was a perfect Victorian plot.  

Then there was Luke, plotting various ways to dispatch his prey and, with each failure, inching closer to the choice between forfeiting his own life and doing a deed that seems more distasteful the more he comes to know his mistress.  I found their choices believable, the timing and pacing of plot points realistic and flowing.  What struck a bad chord was the end.  I love the idea as an idea, but I don't feel that the incident at the factory and all the intrigue there was well set-up earlier in the book.  It felt too harsh for what I knew of the players involved.  However, I did enjoy the mix of Rosa saving Luke, Luke saving Rosa, and the vague but hopeful ending.  My biggest issue was Luke's power.  I find it hard to believe that witch hunters would find a boy who can see magic and think of him as an ally, rather than a witch to be burned.  Other "witches" were killed for much less.  His power was also pretty superfluous.  As was his revenge quest with the witch who killed his parents.  There could have been much more elaboration around these events.  They just didn't seem important.  

concept . 4/5
I actually didn't mind the lack of clarity around the Malleus organization.  I just took it in stride, as I might a more middle grade plot.  Witch hunters.  Made sense to me, but I know this bothered others.  I also took issue with everyone ragging on the rampant sexism and oppression of women in the plot.  What do you expect in the 1800s!?  Rosa accepted her brother's tyranny because she had to.  As a single woman, she did not have her own money.  Her choice outside of the home would have been working as a governess at best, a factory worker at worst.  Her cousin Clemency is the best example of the worldview: marry so that you can run your own household and gain freedom that way.  And that's what Rosa sees in Sebastian.  She knows his flaws, but she also knows what his money will offer her.  A life of her own.  She doesn't rail against the sexism or the thought of herself as property because these are things expected in the world she lives in.  I actually find it refreshing to see a historical novel in which a woman may dislike her circumstances, but still acts like the average woman of her time.  I love the rioters too, but it's less believable.  And Warburton did a fantastic job of staying true to the sensibilities of the time.    

characters . 3/5
I love Rosa and Luke.  I found them to be quietly developed.  You had to take some liberties with Luke, but that didn't bother me.  He seems as much developed as your average contemporary "bad boy."  He's an orphan, he longs to join the Malleus to avenge his parents, he loves his uncle, he gives free smithing work to his needy friend.  At the Greenword manner, he's a little harsh and awkward; he avoids the flirty maid; he's clever in his lies and his plots to kill Rosa, but he's also obviously ambivalent from the start, and his kindness to Rosa becomes less ploy and more real as time goes on.  I had no trouble believing him--or Rosa, for that matter.  Her narratives and actions show her as a bright, kind girl who feels a duty towards her family, a kindness towards the downtrodden, and an insecurity towards herself.  Sebastian, Mrs. Greenwood, and Rosa's brother were the most difficult for me.  Sebastian was just comically evil, Rosa's brother took a quick sidestep, and Mrs. Greenwood had very promising attributes but never took enough of a role in the plot.  Sebastian's mother and father were other loose ends.  I felt like there were ripples of plots that could-have-been in these people.  And Sebastian was just a little too mad scientist towards the end; but his mix of care and cruelty in the beginning was perfect.  

style . 5/5
Warburton writes beautifully.  There were a few potential anachronisms I highlighted, but for the most part, she writes with a Victorian flair, only less ornate and thus more accessible than her truly Victorian forebears.  She reminds me in a nice way of Sharon Cameron.  Both avail themselves of Victorian phrases and words that may be unfamiliar to readers but are key in setting the stage.  She also writes cheeky dialogue and cutting descriptions that bring her world to life.  

mechanics . 4/5
As I said before, there seemed to be a disconnect between the first part of the book and the ending part.  There needed to be more foreshadowing to connect the two.  I would have been quite happy with both parts if they had been integrated more; I'd also have been happy with a less scandalous ending.  It felt like Warburton bit off a huge chunk of plot and could only chew parts of it.  They were good parts, but the loose endings felt frayed and made the plot seem less mature.  The title is also kind of anti-climactic.  "Witch Finder."  Ooh, spooky.  .... 

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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