Wit'ch War

Wit'ch War  - James Clemens I will not remember the names of these books. I barely remember the names of the characters - even the main ones. However, no matter what, I'll never forget the name I've come to think of the entire series by:


As I've mentioned in a previous review of most likely the first book of the Banned and the Banished, I can't help but think that Alasea is the safe haven for all of those apostrophes that professional and budding authors considered too excessive and erased from their projects. They are everywhere - just when you think you've wandered into a realm of relatively normal-looking words (as normal as fantasy can get, that is), a pack of sharp hissing little apostrophes hop out of out nowhere and bite you in the ass. It really is too much I feel, and there really seems to be no reason for them.

The writing itself is, for the most part, quite dry and mechanical, with occasional spurts of the flavour that this story sorely needs. At times it felt more like I was reading a timeline of events, rather than a story. ('This happened. He parried it like a light shining from the blackest darkest inkiest night. Suddenly the world exploded. Suddenly this happened. A single tear rolled down his cheek. SUDDENLY.') Normally the quality of writing isn't hugely important to me, but as the characters were lacking I really couldn't help but focus on it more than I would've liked.

The characters, as mentioned, do not grab me. Honestly, thinking back now over the three books I've read so far, I can only recall a few names and fewer threads of back-story. The only character that truly caught my interest wasn't around for very long (more on that one under the spoiler). Very few of the characters get any time to grow and develop; too much of the book is devoted to random bouts of action which really didn't do anything for either me or the story. They needed more time to themselves, more time for them to ponder and react and make mistakes and learn from them (or not). They just don't have that - things either happen in the blink of an eye, or not at all.

Mainly things that sort of pissed me off in the story under the spoiler tag, but hopefully there are some actual good points of constructive criticism.

Don't read ahead if you want to remain spoiler-free, please! ♥

Let's get right into what I considered to be some of the bad points to Wit'ch War:

Suddenly. In hindsight it seems like a rather trivial thing to get irritated about, but the word 'suddenly' popped up so ridiculously often that whenever there was supposed to be a twist or a shock, I just didn't feel it. Things that were meant to be sudden and hook the reader's interest came off as bland and felt as if I were being spoon-fed surprising encounters. It was completely unnecessary - do not tell us something is going to happen by starting off a sentence or paragraph with 'suddenly' at least once every couple of pages. Throw it at us and the characters, make us all confused, let us learn together what the hell's happening and if everyone's going to be okay. Let us connect with the characters and their shock by letting us experience it as they would.

Elena and Joach were almost unbearable to me. They were so bland, so cookie-cutter, so basic, so...boring. I try not to use the phrases Mary Sue/Gary Stu lightly, but that is the only thing I can think to call them. Elena started out her adventure as a normal, run-of-the-mill farmer's daughter who nobody would look twice at. Suddenly she's a witch - excuse me, a wit'ch. She develops this wide and overly complicated array of magical powers with not much in the way of a learning curve, and she gets bloody good with them fast. Oh, and she's also apparently the long-lost descendant of a lost elv'in king. And she's really nice but also sort of mature about her choices - speaking of maturity, lucky for Er'ril that spell or whatever it was aged her to optimal 'young woman' age. What a lucky coincidence.

One thing that perhaps could be a redeeming factor is that she seems to be slightly xenophobic, or even borderline racist. It's mentioned more than once I believe that the darker-skinned characters (Brother Moris, the zo'ol) tended to make her uncomfortable until she got to know them. It is perhaps ironic that I'd consider this to be a 'good' quality, but frankly, she needs a lot more bad points than she has. Whatever good qualities she possesses haven't really made themselves overly obvious to me, as she has no negative ones to balance them out at all.

Joach is more like a slightly dim Labrador than a concerned protector in my eyes. A magical Labrador. I'm still not entirely sure when his weaving powers really manifested seriously for the first time and were a big deal, to be honest - they just seemed to pop up conveniently (though I am probably forgetting a detail or two here, apologies).

Moris. Brother Moris, Flint's friend. This is perhaps, again, a trivial detail, but it got to me. It really only needs to be mentioned maybe once or twice that a character has dark skin, yet it's pointed out an uncomfortable amount of times ('The dark-skinned Brother rushed away' etc). We know he's black, that's fine. Pointing it out so often just seems to be making it a defining point of Moris, when it should not be.

None of the main crew seems to be bog-standard common-as-muck normal. Everyone is either nobility, magical in nature, or otherwise somehow special. Elena and Joach are technically royalty, and have magical powers. Er'ril has lived for five fricking centuries and is bound to the Blood Diary, and is the brother of a major protagonist. Tol'chuk is half-shapeshifter, half-ogre, the descendant of some ogre traitor and the one destined to save the lost souls of his people. Meric is a nobleman and the son of his people's Queen. Mogweed and Fardale were revered somewhat for being twins. It's only mentioned now in the third book that Mountain Man Guy (I really cannot remember his name, apologies) is kind of a big deal to his people, needing to exact their revenge on the dwarves in their name and memory (or something, I really don't know) in order to reclaim their honour (or something). Sy-wen's the daughter of a high-standing council member, and Kast just so happens to be the son of the Highkeel of his people.

All this nobility and standing and reverence is too much for me personally. I tend to like my characters with a little bit more dirt and grit to them.

It's made quite clear in her introduction that Sy-wen is most likely a teenage girl, yet she is treated by the story and its characters as a woman. I understand that fantasy can take liberties with things, but this and her romance with Kast doesn't sit well with me. If she is a girl, treat her like one. If she is an adult, treat her like one.

The inclusion of her and Kast originally seemed pretty nifty, but now it seems that they were really nothing more than a plot device to make an excuse to develop a massive army to sail into war with. That's fine and all, but neither of them really seem to bring much else to the main storyline apart from that. They're distinctly disconnected from the main crew, even when they're actually spending time with them. Sy-wen is really not so different from Elena at all, when she could've been a great female lead to counter-balance the wit'ch. Kast himself seems to just be a rehash of Er'ril, a gruff warrior protector who harbours romantic feelings for his charge. Ragnar'k is more interesting than the two of them combined - at least he's arrogant and stubborn, a good example of a positive 'good guy' character being defined by traits mostly seen as negative.

Of course, I want to try to end it on a good enough note. My favourite character from all of the books as of yet was nothing more than a plot device throw-away antagonist, and I sincerely feel he was more interesting than the entire main crew mashed into one terrible bland chimera of cardboard: Ulster, Kast's younger brother and Keelchief of the Dragonspur, I believe the ship was called. He was a terrible man - cruel, unfair, dishonest, power-hungry and bloated with delusions of his own grandeur. I couldn't stand the guy and was angry whenever he showed up, and this absolutely delighted me to no end. Here was a character in the midst of an otherwise lacklustre book making me feel things, making me want to punch his teeth out and kick him while he's down. Of course, he doesn't stay around for long, as his ship's shaman, an old friend of his father's, considers the young man to be hell on legs for his ship and decides to 'cleanse' the Dragonspur of him after Ulster threatens his granddaughter.

We end up learning that there was a lot more to this character than just flat-out cruelty and greed, that he was the way he was because his father - who Pinorr the shaman thought was wonderful and could do no wrong - was distressingly violent towards his son behind closed doors, even more so after his older brother pissed off before it could lash towards him, leaving him entirely alone. He was a boy desperate for somebody to just see everything that was happening, especially the person who could've made the most difference - Pinorr, who was also the most blinded to his friend's actions.

Ulster was my favourite character, and probably will be throughout Wit'ch Gate and Wit'ch Star as I don't have the highest of hopes that another character as personally interesting as him will pop up. He made the book much more enjoyable to me, and that also shows that the author is certainly capable of creating personalities with some depth to them - he just missed out on the majority of people who show up in the story.

Clemens has potential to be a much better writer than he was while writing Banned and the Banished. These aren't particularly recent books, and if he has written anything within the past few years, I'd jump at the chance to read it and see how much he's improved. However, even without reading any other work of his, I feel that the Wit'ch series was not the work that really defined him as an author.

I've enjoyed the series so far from a practical point of view, rather than an imaginative one. Some of the concepts are interesting and should've been fleshed out more (like the various races and their relations) and some needed to be refined, honed and simplified (like the magic systems). On one hand, I'm looking forward to reading the final two books to see how they tie off all the loose ends, but on the other, I'm eager to get through them so I can move onto to other books.