Run away. That was all she could do. If Security grabbed her now, they’d ship her off to a ReBirthing facility in the desert. Or burn her alive. They burned witches in the Dominions. Great Mother, anything but that.
But for 15-year-old Polly Lightfoot, much more than her life is at stake. In a crumbling America governed by hateful zealots and crippled by environmental catastrophe, her people and their ancient craft face obliteration. Unless, with her courage and magick, and with the help of Leon, her valient teenage companion, and the guidance of her shrewd raven familiar, Balthazar, fearless Polly can forestall the coming doom.
I absolutely loved the premise of this book. Witches? Awesome! Post-societal collapse? Send this my way! A landscape that is at once familiar and alien? Yes, please! Christians versus pagans? Eh, well, you know, if it’s done well enough and isn’t overly preachy one way or the other, I’m game!
Heading into the book was interesting right off the bat. America is not the country it used to be. Something bad happened in New York, and points north are . . . wild, cut off, the last strong hold of the Resistance. When news of a Purge reached Polly’s community, her parents sent her south, to New Florida, to live with Polly’s aunt. All Polly had to do was blend in . . . easy for a headstrong freedom fighting teenager, right?
Polly has little choice but to flee after her inability to play along with her uncle’s so-called intervention lands her in deeper trouble. With Balthazar at her side, she begins a long and dangerous travel north, all in the hope that the Purge was not quite as thorough as everyone seems to think it was. Along the way she runs into fellow witches who are not quite what they seem to be, freethinkers exiled from polite society who seek to gain the good graces of their ‘betters’, and one young man who is taken with Polly and her plight.
Honestly? This book was a huge let down. I have three main quibbles with the book. The first issue is the dialogue between Polly and her familiar. From a technical point of view, the dialogue hopped back and forth between spoken words and telepathic communication, like so:
“Did my father send you?”
“Is he all right?” She held her breath.
“What about the others?”
Isla is dead.
This happens throughout the book, and more than a few times even the italics is dropped. I don’t mind the raven being able to do vocalization and telepathic communication – surely a case can be made for the more complex thoughts being send via mindspeak rather than vocalization, but as often as not Balthazar thought simple words, then spoke simple words, and the switch back and forth certainly set off my inner editor. It distracted me from the story.
My second quibble with the book is that, not long into it, we come to learn that the witches obviously know the gods aren’t real. They’re just useful thought forms and ways of understanding things. They’re tools. This may be a silly quibble – people don’t have to believe that the gods are real, not even witches, and I’m not the sort of reader that has to have the characters agree with me in order for me to be sympathetic – or there’d be so many books I couldn’t read! – but it disappointed me. It placed the witches in a position of superiority over the monotheists in the book because they clearly knew the gods weren’t real, and look how superstitious the monotheists are!
My last quibble with the book is: there is no guile in the main characters at all. Betrayal after betrayal after betrayal, Polly continues to tell strangers too much about her plight. She continues to place herself in compromising positions. When, at one point they are caught, and her companion is told to trick their captors, he makes a daring move, gets himself in even more strict lock-down, and tells his captors why he did it, and that he was told to trick them. This had me seriously considering putting the book down before the end. You cannot have people after you, willing to kill you as much as capture you, and babble to all and sundry what happened to you and why you’re running and what your goal is, and by the way, hi I’m a witch!
For all that, I very much enjoyed the world building of this book. Bredes’ command of scenery is vivid, and it really pulled me into the book. I wanted to explore the history – what, exactly, happened in New York? How did this power-house get in control of this broken, post-cataclysm America? Would I recommend this book to other pagans? Not really, but not so much because of how the witches were written as the frustrating behavior of both Polly and Leon as the story progresses. I tossed this one across the room more than once, and if you’re okay with reading books that inspire you to do the same, it may not be so bad!
[Jolene Dawe is a polytheist devoted to Poseidon and Odin. She is the author of Treasures from the Deep, a collection of Poseidon’s myths retold, and The Fairy Queen of Spencer’s Butte and Other Tales. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her partner, a small horde of cats, one small dog, and three spunky spinning wheels. You can find her online at http://thesaturatedpage.wordpress.com%5D.]