Witchfinder is one of those rare stories that is at once comfortably familiar and relentlessly surprising. It starts out with all the trappings we expect as fantasy fans: richly imagined worlds, magic, larger than life heroes and villains, and, of course, fantastic creatures big and small. However, magic and world-building, exciting as they are, take a back seat to the characters. And oh boy, are there characters. If this book was a TV show, I would be spending all my time dreaming up spinoffs based around each and every one of them. Even the obligatory archetypes -the intrepid hero, the seemingly innocent fish-out-of-water, the perpetually fretting mother, the sidekick- are full of surprises and endless layers that are all interesting and important to the story. By the time the reader meets the rest of the cast, it's impossible to stop reading because you just want to KNOW, not just the turns of the plot, but the fate of everyone involved.
That's not to say the story is in any way lacking in action. In fact, action is more or less non-stop, with exposition stuffed in little crevices around the chases, fights, spells, magical journeys and various fantastical perils. There are some interesting themes as well: duty and sacrifice vs. personal fulfillment, fate vs. choice, adventure vs. safety, and, above all, love in all its varied, messy forms. This work would actually make for a great book club discussion because there are so many points that people of varying ages and life experiences would perceive in different ways.
Highly recommended to current and potential fantasy fans. The most jaded readers are still guaranteed some surprises, and those who have never tried the genre will leave this story looking for more, both from fantasy in general and this author in particular.