Sunday, 16 February 2014

#CBR6: 8: Dark Witch, Nora Roberts

Page Count: 368 pages in the deckle edge edition, I read a kindle version
Time Taken: 5 hours

Iona Sheehan has arrived in Ireland to take up her mantle as one of three inheritors of the powers of a 13th Century witch and matriarch of her family line. Together with her cousins Connor and Branna, she has to fight a dark power who hounded her ancestress to death and desires her power even now. As her power grows, so too do her feelings for her handsome boss, Boyle McGrath. Can she beat her personal demons and claim her prize?

I made that sound good there, right? It's a shame that the actual book is much more formulaic than my précis of it, because I would like to read a book where the heroine got to claim some bit of fluff as a reward - oh sorry, a well-rounded character who develops and grows over time and is coincidentally attractive. That is not this book. Unfortunately.

The book lost me in the first part, which is told in close third person narrative and starts with the eponymous Dark Witch, Sorcha. It lost me at quite a specific point. It lost me when Sorcha told her daughter to go back to the house and chop the potatoes for the stew.

From Wikipedia, entry potato: "In the Andes, where the species is indigenous, there are some other closely related cultivated potato species. Potatoes were introduced outside the Andes region four centuries ago, and have become an integral part of much of the world's food supply...Following the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, the Spanish introduced the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th century."  Those first two sentences came from THE FIRST PARAGRAPH OF THE ENTRY. Now, I grant you that researching potatoes for your partially historical novel might not strike you as necessary, but I found it staggeringly awful that neither the writer, nor the editor, nor any of the proof readers picked up on what is a glaring historical inaccuracy in the first chapter.

In fact, none of the historical or cultural details in the book really ring true to me. The 13th Century stuff is pretty bad all round - "Sorcha" is not what the name is in Gaelic, that would be "Saoirse" - and a lot of the modern Irish stuff is very... well, shit. Horseshit. Quite literally, a lot of the time. Okay, it's a vaguely supernatural romance written by someone who isn't Irish, for a US audience who probably (also) don't know about the potato thing of how to spell/pronounce Gaelic, but for the writer of over 200 novels, I kind of expected better. I presume that the Gaelic in it is of similarly dubious provenance, but I don't speak any so I don't know, and also Scots Gaelic is a bit different to Irish Gaelic so I'd know the wrong one anyway.

There's no exposition in the story as to the nature of magic or how common its usage is, the book completely ignores everything Catholic about Ireland except for a couple of buildings, and the non-witches in the circle of friends are completely okay with magic existing. There's no sense of world-building or history in the books, no sense of place or time particularly; it didn't feel real to me at all.

Also the word is spelled "magic" not "magick". I appreciate that one might want to use the word magick to hint at a pseudo-Celtic romanticised mythology, and it certainly did that in this book, but it also really reminds me of teenagers who think they can do magic because they got stoned and watched The Craft and wear a lot of green and black. I am totally fine with pretentious arsery, do not get me wrong, me and pretentious arsery go way back, but deliberately drawing on that resonance seems a bit sloppy. And shit.

The second book in the trilogy will be out soon. Without reading any of the blurb, I knew that it would be about the romance between Connor and Maera (not even sure that's an Irish name). I'm sure that Connor will find himself hurt and Maera will have to rescue him with her leet swordswoman skills, and that she'll be rescued by him whilst wearing an unlikely outfit, and there will be Humorous Misunderstandings which will Cause Their Blossoming Relationship To Falter.

I know what the next book will be as well. The compellingly beautiful Branna, long thwarted in her love for Fin because he's the descendent of the evil witch man who is trying to kill them all and claim their powers, will become more and more drawn to and suspicious of her erstwhile lver. He, meanwhile, will be tortured and brooding whilst his dreams are haunted by his dark forefather's malign influence. Eventually, nearly mad with it all, he will do Cabhan's bidding (yes, that's his name, you pronounce it "Cavan", it apparently means "the hollow" LIKE HIS SOUL and is a placename in the Republic of Ireland) before redeeming himself to prove his love for Branna and finally defeating Cabhan, taking a mortal would in the process which will of course be cured by Branna. In the epilogue, Iona will reveal she's pregnant.

I did not just do magic there. Or *shudder* magick. I used my wealth of experience at reading by-the-numbers novels by bored writers. This is one of those. I'd give it two stars, because it was at least readable trite, but I'm taking one star off for the potato and name thing, because that really fucked me off. It's pretty harsh that I marked this lower than Claim Me, but it had better sex scenes, and laugh-out-loud bad is, you know, laughable, rather than tedium interspersed with a voice in my head shouting "IT'S SPELLED MAGIC YOU FUCKS". Not recommended, unless you're doing a thesis on "common US misinterpretations of Ireland", "cultural appropriation", or "examples of poor pacing/stereotypes/clichés/chemistry in romance novels". If you do read it, I found that occasionally pausing to say "it doesn't have a K in it" helped a lot.

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