The Witch Watch Paperback – February 20, 2012
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Young's novel has wit, worldbuilding, and of course, Witch Watchery (by which I mean there is a blend of magic and technology which evidences one of the better examples of quasi-steampunk that have come out of this sad and overrated genre). More importantly, however, he has created characters who engage you despite the seemingly matter-of-fact way they appear and think of themselves.
Gilbert, the accidentally undead soldier, charms with his wit and manners, but the core of his decency is what really brings me to love him. Alice, struggling to fill her father's place in the world, wins the heart through skill, vulnerability, and passion. Simon, perhaps a bit weaker than the others, nonetheless takes an appropriately Dickensian journey from orphandom to adventure, with added magic.
I've heard buzz about this being Pratchett-esque, and as a fan of early-late Pratchett (around the Thud! period), I'd say I know why this comparison is made, but it doesn't really do Young justice. While grasping much of the lightness of touch which marks Pratchett's best work, he nonetheless has a much less cynical approach to the world. While not losing any of the humor of a Discworld-like novel, The Witch Watch has a more earnest, passionate approach to its magical Victoriana, and I think the world of literature is richer for it.
The Witch Watch clearly comes as an earlier work - a few missteps, a few heavy-handed lines - but despite it all, the book has such an assurance and passion combined with intelligence and wit that I cannot but hope for many further novels - either in the same universe, or just written with the same hand.
This book is the exact opposite. It is delightfully written with humor and warmth, strong characters, and an intriguing plot that kept me guessing until the end.
I'm not a witch- or undead- genre lover, so I had some reservations before picking up this book, but was pleasantly surprised that, while integral to the plot, the supernatural wasn't the true focus of the story. The character growth and interaction was what kept me reading, and it was well worth the time. I highly recommend this book.
Warning: there are spoilers in the text that follows, although I do my best to keep my comments very general and/or confined to the early parts of the book.
The Witch Watch is a comedic romp through a Victorian England where magic exists and the dead can be raised as zombie-like abominations. That's what happened to Gilbert. Except that it was all a mistake; it was supposed to be a powerful wizard, Lord Mordaunt, who got raised. Now Gilbert has to contend with Lord Mordaunt's cult-like followers, the zealously anti-magic church -- and, of course, the "Witch Watch", the royal ministry tasked with investigating and defending against malicious magic. But Gilbert is not an evil abomination, he's just a guy trying to do right by the world. When he learns that the "vigor" (a sort of life force or essence) that revived him came from the Princess Sophie, he is determined to get it back to her.
Along the way we get to know Simon, the young sorcerer who raised Gilbert, who is both more and less than he seems. And Alice, daughter of the Witch Watch's founder, who is herself a magic user and has a very clinical approach to magic. As Gilbert regains his memories (they were lost due to his time as a corpse) we are treated to flashbacks to the time before his death, and slowly discover how it was that he was reanimated in place of Lord Mordaunt.
There's nary a dull moment in the book, as Gilbert's adventures take him across England (and beyond). The alternate history with its unique magic system and the organizations that surround them are carefully drawn. Clearly they were deeply thought out, but by and large the explanations are interesting and used to drive the story forward. And for all the high drama, the book is at its heart a comedy. Reading the banter between the characters is a pleasure whether they're debating how to escape their latest predicament or ruminating on what to have for breakfast.
Still, the book falls short for me in a few ways. I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at how ready Gilbert is to give up his (un)life for a princess he's never met. At best it was a missed opportunity for more character depth, and at worst it chips away at the reader's belief in the character. And there were other ways the characters lacked complexity. For instance, without spoiling too much, once the characters sort themselves into good guys and bad guys things become very black and white. The heroes might argue about HOW to do accomplish something, but their goals are very much in a line. Again, if Gilbert had a bit more sense of self preservation I think there would have been an additional thread of tension that would have made all the heroes feel a bit more real.
But all books have their flaws, and in this one the good more than outweighed the bad. In other words, I'm glad I read it. (That's more than I can say about plenty of traditionally published books.) If you're inclined toward light historical fantasy, I think you'd like it too.
Top international reviews
Several times during the story, it felt like I had caught the author (or his characters) being stupid. Each time, it turned out I was (happily) wrong.
The author has a clear, engaging style. The story is written from multiple third person perspectives and makes for some very well written scenes where you share the character's confusion, because you are presented with their (incorrect) perceptions.
TL;DR: Loved it. For children and adults. Nice art too.
Edit: I should note that, because this was a print on demand version, the book is not very sturdy - the cover is flimsier than I'm used to on paperbacks and the paper is very thin. This didn't bother me (I am careful with my books!) and was in fact nice to have a lighter, thinner book to carry, but it might bother others.
If you like Terry Pratchett's Discworld, you'll like this!
This book is an enjoyable adventure played out by a trio of mismatched companions defending Queen and Country against a villainous group of aristocrats. I started reading on the expectation of a story set firmly in a smog-choked London (which it does deliver on, even if I suspect Shamus' knowledge of London geography is a little sketchy), but I was pleasantly surprised when the characters travel quite further afield mid-way through the book.
The ending does fall a little quickly and the book is written in US English, which can be a little jarring when some of the plummy English characters speak, but these are extremely minor detractions from an otherwise excellent tale.
I sincerely recommend giving it a go!
The last few chapters felt a little rushed compared to teh polish of the earlier.
Good characters, well researched and realised setting, and interesting systems of magic. It's not worth the money he's asking, it's worth a lot more.
Gilbert, so der Name des wandelnden Toten, hat dadurch ein Problem. Die Nekromanten wollen das Vigor, mit dem er erweckt wurde zurück, die Kirche will keine Lebenden Leichen und die titelgebende Witch Watch will die Königsfamilie vor Zauberei beschützen.
Was mir an dem Buch gefällt, ist das alle Charaktere nachvollziehbar handeln. Sie spielen sich nicht gegenseitig den "Idiot Ball" zu, sondern handeln sich entsprechend ihrem derzeitigen Wissen auf logische Ziele zu. Der Leser kann sich zwar seinen Teil denken, aber er wird auch öfter in Dialogen unter den Charakteren daran erinnert, dass er mehr weiß als die Protagonisten.
Das Buch ist bisher nur in Englisch verfügbar. Die Sprache ist aber weitestgehend einfach gehalten. Auf dem sehr guten Blog des Autors gibt es deutlich mehr Worte, die ich mal nachschlagen muss.
Es ist kein Über-Buch, kein All-Time-Klassiker, aber es ist ein gutes Buch, dass mir gut gefällt.
While this book isn't laughing out loud funny, those of us who like wordplay and wit will most certainly be able to enjoy this book.
All in all, a well-written, surprisingly touching story set in a world that stands out of the crowd with great characters and a nice twist or two.