Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book
by Diana Pharaoh Francis
Book Description: SOMETIMES YOU CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES. AND SOMETIMES, THEY CHOOSE YOU…Once , Max dreamed of a career, a home, a loving family. Now all she wants is freedom…and revenge. A witch named Giselle transformed Max into a warrior with extraordinary strength, speed, and endurance. Bound by spellcraft, Max has no choice but to fight as Giselle’s personal magic weapon — a Shadowblade — and she’s lethally good at it. But her skills are about to be put to the test as they never have before….The ancient Guardians of the earth are preparing to unleash widespread destruction on the mortal world, and they want the witches to help them. If the witches refuse, their covens will be destroyed, including Horngate, the place Max has grudgingly come to think of as home. Max thinks she can find a way to help Horngate stand against the Guardians, but doing so will mean forging dangerous alliances — including one with a rival witch’s Shadowblade, who is as drawn to Max as she is to him — and standing with the witch she despises. Max will have to choose between the old life she still dreams of and the warrior she has become, and take her place on the side of right — if she survives long enough to figure out which side that is….
Like my favorite urban fantasy author Patricia Briggs (who just happened to have blurbed for this book), Diana Pharaoh Francis has a background as an established fantasy writer, and that background is certainly evident in Bitter Night.
“Max’s phone rang. It was set to a high-pitched tone that most humans couldn’t hear. But being human hadn’t been Max’s problem since 1979.” –Bitter Night
First up, the good: Diana’s fantasy background was a strength that she fully utilized in created the world of the Horngate Witches. Witches hold amazing power in Bitter Night. Shadowblades and Sunspears are human servants magically enhanced with superhuman abilities and senses. They are not that dissimilar from vampires: they can heal from most wounds, never grow old, and the sun (or moon depending on whether they are Sunspears or Shadowblades) is deadly to them. They even struggle with enlarged appetites (try 40 Big Macs at once).
Max (she adopted the name from the Mel Gibson character in The Road Warrior movies, though I think she is much more like Riggs from Lethal Weapon) is the Prime Shadowblade for the witch Giselle. Enslaved by the witch that made her, compelled to lay down her very life if necessary in order to keep Giselle safe, Max is not the grateful servant she’s expected to be. Rather she is consumed with one thought: Revenge. It is the one hope that keeps her from walking out in to the sunlight that would kill her. When forces greater than even the witches threaten everything that Max has come to care about, she must learn to ally with her enemy and accept the role she must play as savior.
The cover art is what first attracted me to this book. And I love that Max is actually described like the cover depicts her. She even wears the cover outfit during a pivotal scene in the book. In that scene Max is forced into a test of endurance against another witch’s Prime Shadowblade, Alexander (who I think deserved a spot on the cover as a significant number of chapters are written from his point of view).
The not-so good: Diana’s fantasy background is both her strength and her weakness. The fantasy Horngate world is well realized with its own unique mythology (especially her take on Angels), the urban elements, however, are less so. There is very little interaction with the modern (outside) world, and while the characters all have cell phones and drive cars etc., apart from those details, this story could easily have been set a millennium ago with minor changes. I’m not sure if those small additions will be enough for hardcore urban fantasy lovers.
I’ll also admit that it took me until about the midpoint to really get into this book. Max is a hard character and the circumstances of her life have made her very bitter (hence the title). At first, I struggled to see past that aspect of her. I understood her to a degree, I just didn’t especially like her. That changed when she risked her life for Alexander not knowing if he would turn around and kill her later. Her loyalty to the Shadowblades in her command was also a contributing factor. She consistently put their welfare over her own need for revenge. It’s hard not to admire that kind of selflessness.
I never really did warm up to Alexander. He didn’t seem strong enough to be a realistic romantic lead for Max (the Angel on the other hand…). Nor did I ever believe the conflicting desire they supposedly felt for each other went beyond plain lust. Overall, I found his chapters to be the weakest in the book.
Bitter Night has its bitter moments, but strong world building and a heroine who proves herself by bravery and resourcefulness, even willingness to suffer in the stead of others make it worth reading. There is no cliffhanger ending, but Diana is far from finished with her Horngate Witches…and neither am I.
Sexual Content: Kissing.
Disclosure: I received this book for review courtesy of Diana Pharaoh Francis