James Maxey – Witchbreaker

jamesmaxey-witchbreakerLong ago, Lord Stark Tower – the famed Witchbreaker – nearly wiped out the witches. Today, only a handful of women still practice the weaving craft in secret. The witch Sorrow, Infidel’s fellow adventurer, has vowed to right this wrong, crushing the Church of the Book and launching a new golden age of witchcraft. In pursuit of her goal, she has bonded her soul with Rott, the primal dragon of decay, giving her near-limitless powers of destruction.

Unfortunately, this power has cost Sorrow her humanity, leading her to a desperate quest to find the greatest witch of all time, Avaris – rumoured to still be alive after hundreds of years – in hopes of mastering her dark magic before it destroys her. But she’s not alone in hunting Avaris, as fate throws her into an uneasy partnership with a man who wants to be the new Witchbreaker. Can either of them survive their mutual quests when their journey leads them into battle with Tempest, the primal dragon of storms?

Witchbreaker is the third in James Maxey’s Dragon Apocalypse series. I tremendously enjoyed the previous two books, Greatshadow and Hush, and I was really looking forward to this book, which I thought was the concluding volume. The good news is that Witchbreaker is just as fun as the other books; the bad news is that although it is the last volume, the story ends on an open-ended note. It makes for a dissatisfying ending to a fabulous series and I’m hoping that Maxey will return to this world in the future to give us the rest of the story. Before it sounds as if I’m being overly critical, let’s jump into the review and you’ll understand my reasoning.

Where Greatshadow and Hush centred on Infidel as their protagonist, in Witchbreaker the focus shifts to Sorrow, the witch we first met in Hush. It makes sense in terms of Infidel’s story arc and the way the previous books were narrated, as Stagger, the narrator, is now otherwise occupied. In Sorrow we get another interesting female point of view, though one which left me a little conflicted at times. While Sorrow’s development throughout the book was interesting and I liked it a lot, she also feels as a mouthpiece at times. Perhaps due to the fact that I’ve been reading a lot about the treatment of women in SFF in the past months, I felt that there were a lot of parallels between that conversation and Sorrow’s view of the world. While I’m convinced the book is meant to add to the larger conversation, not as snide commentary on said conversation, and the books in the Dragon Apocalypse definitely ace the Bechdel test in spades – not to mention Maxey’s previous portrayals of women, such as Infidel, Aurora, and the Black Swan – it was a little unsubtle to say the least. Especially as much of what drives Sorrow’s quest for power and her hatred of both the Church of the Book and her general hatred and distrust of men, comes from what seem to be daddy-issues. Of course, having your father hang your grandmother as a witch is bound to leave some scars, but then planning to destroy the Church that condemns witches might be seen as extreme, even if there are very good reasons to dislike the Church of the Book tremendously. What I loved about Sorrow’s character development in the book is that while she never loses the desire to avenge herself on her father and the Church, she does learn that not all men are evil and to let down her walls and allow herself to care for and trust those around her, especially the Romer family. Her growth felt genuine and not spurred by her desire for a man, even if there is a clear love story in the book.

Maxey’s dialogue in Witchbreaker is again quite snappy and funny and he manages to mix lots of humour in with some genuinely touching and emotional scenes. My particular favourite secondary characters were Slate, Sorrow’s reluctant partner in the hunt for Avaris, Bigsby, the former-fishmonger-turned-princess dwarf, and the Romer family. They all have separate emotional journeys to travel during the book and they all teach Sorrow something about herself. I especially found Bigsby’s acceptance of his cross-dressing needs touching as it meant he was able to embrace all of himself and it meant that he wasn’t just meant as comic relief, his was a story in its own right. The same goes for the Romer clan, whose matriarch has to learn to let go, only to learn that her chicks can fly, but choose to remain in the nest for a while longer. Their close-knit family, the love they share and their natural inclusion of Sorrow as one of them is one of the bigger impetuses for Sorrow’s growth along the way and they are really quite wonderful. We see even more of the various dragons and of the powers at play in the world Maxey has created here and both the dragons and the closer look at other parts of the world were fascinating.

All of which makes the ending even more disappointing. While there is a solution to this story, the ending does sort of leave our characters in medias res and I really hope that Maxey returns to this world in a new series or even in a standalone, as when I finished the book I really thought that there’d been a change of plans and that there would be a fourth book, as the story doesn’t seem done. So what does that mean for my opinion on the book? As the next book in the series and as part of the Dragon Apocalypse series it was a great book and a wonderful continuation of the story. As the final book in the series? I was left wanting, without the insurance of more to come. So would I recommend picking up this book? Yes, if you’ve read the previous two and enjoyed them a lot or you’re a completist. If you haven’t started this series yet, I’d definitely read books one and two, but hold off on Witchbreaker until you’re sure that you like the world and its characters and/or it’s announced Maxey will return to this story in a follow-up series.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • Thanks, Mieneke. I designed the Dragon Apocalypse as a longer series than three books. Solaris only bought the first three. I was already done with book two and moving on to book three by the time the first one came out. Having written the first three books in a very short time span, I’m taking a brief break to work on two other novels while my imagination buffers recharge for this series. But, as the ending suggests, I do have plans to return to Slate and Sorrow’s adventures for another book, tentatively titled “Soulless.”

    • Oh, that’s wonderful to hear, James! Thanks for letting me know. I really enjoyed the Dragon Apocalypse series immensely, so I’m glad to know there will be more :-)

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