"The Mist-Torn Witches," Barb Hendee

Pros: Magnificent characterization, pacing and plotting
Cons: Somewhat standard medieval setting (not wholly a negative; read review for more details)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Release date: May 7, 2013
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group

 

Celine and Amelie Fawe are orphaned sisters trying to make a living in a destitute peasant village. Celine pretends to have her mother’s abilities to read the future, and Amelie protects them both with sword and dagger. Then one day an old woman pays Celine a visit and offers her money to predict a particular future for a particular young woman—an offer Celine can’t refuse, since it comes from the prince who rules the land with brutal efficiency. When Celine finds herself compelled to offer different counsel, the sisters are forced to flee their home and seek safety with the prince’s brother, Anton.

Prince Anton is contending with a series of mysterious deaths of beautiful young women, and he offers Celine and Amelie a place to live and work in safety if they can use their supposed skills to find the culprit. Suddenly two poor sisters are tossed head-first into a world of power, ambition, and money, in which even the best of people must be hardhearted and swift to act. Danger is all around them, and Celine has no idea how to prevent more girls from dying.


 

Truly the stars of Barb Hendee’s The Mist-Torn Witches are her complex, painfully flawed characters. Just when you’ve seen them at their best, their worst comes crashing through. Even Amelie and Celine, perhaps the two best-intentioned characters, mess things up and stubbornly press on through some fairly inadvisable courses of action. Yet even when I was cringing and thinking, “oh no, this just can’t end well,” I understood why they were doing what they did and it made sense for them. I didn’t even particularly like most of the characters, but they’re so well-drawn that I still cared about them, sympathized with them, and wanted very much to know what happened to them.

The pacing is quick and lively, and I had difficulty putting the book down for long. Always I wanted to find out what happened next, and there was never a dull moment. The story has some lovely and unexpected twists and turns; it never felt predictable. The fantasy setting is interesting, but most of the world-building attention goes into the strife-ridden governmental system. Otherwise so far it’s a standard medieval-style fantasy world. This isn’t really a negative—the setting mostly gets out of the way so the story can gallop along and the characters can take center stage.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t go into much of the plot. I will say, however, that this volume (the first in a new series) provides a satisfying wrap-up to the immediate plot while leaving plenty of material to expand on later. I eagerly anticipate what will come next in the sequel, but wasn’t subjected to the sort of cliff-hanger ending that frustrates me.

Hendee’s The Mist-Torn Witches is a gripping read with absorbing characters, and plenty of danger around every corner.

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