This book sweeps you into the world of Savannah Levine, a young private investigator with a motorbike, a bit of an attitude... and spellcasting ability, the latter being a mix of her heritage of a half-demon witch mother and a sorcerer papa. For this is the 11th novel in author Kelley Armstrong's 'Otherworld' urban fantasy series, where supernatural beings inhabit a modern America that's otherwise just like the real contemporary one.
The story appeals on many levels: fans of detetive fiction, female empowerment or the supernatural/modern world interface will all find this enjoyable. You could call it Kinsey Millhone (heroine of the 'Alphabet' series of private detective stories by Sue Grafton) meets The Dresden Files, but this is a living, breathing alternate reality in its own right where most people potter along in contemporary lives much as you and I do while supernatural beings mingle amongst us mostly keeping their abilities to themselves (with good reason, at times!).
Scene set, Savannah Levine - who I'd call a rebellious teenager in mind-set although she's now 21 - has been left minding the store at the detective agency (catering mainly to the supernatural trade although they do accept 'mundane' clients') run by her guardians who have gone off for a well-earned luxury cruise. Juggling her rebellious nature with the realisation that it's about time she 'grew up' a bit, she embarks on her first solo investigation in an evocatively-described small backwoods town... and runs into a variety of obstacles and opportunities from a man who just might be the love of her life to hostile practitioners of Santeria, a lady who doesn't like to admit even to herself that she's a witch and plenty of folk who are not what they appear to be on the surface. The deft narration sweeps the reader through all of these and more, letting you get right into Savannah's head and into the centre of the action.
It's not just action, with sides of spell-casting and romance, though. Savannah does get the chance to grow up... and to realise that choices have consequences, and that life is quite often not fair. All in all, it's a cracking good read... and kept my 13-year-old daughter up half the night to finish it once I was done.
Role-playing inspirations: This story, indeed all the Otherworld, fits well into the 'contemporary/supernatural' genre of such as the New World of Darkness (particularly if you are sticking to the core books rather than introducing White Wolf's take on vampires, werewolves, etc.), Margaret Weis's Supernatural if you want to go beyond the model of 'supernatural being = hostile' portrayed therein and possibly the Dresden Files RPG, although it may need some work to reconcile the different takes on the supernatural 'society' between the two.
Return to Waking The Witch page.
Reviewed: 29 July 2010