~by Kelley Armstrong
When it comes to paranormal suspense fiction, Kelley Armstrong is a name I frequently hear mentioned. Armstrong is probably best known for her series Women of the Otherworld (often shortened to Otherworld), beginning with her debut novel Bitten, written in 2001. I have been meaning to read some of Armstrong's work for quite some time now but it wasn't until I was offered a review copy of Waking the Witch that I finally got around to it. Technically, Waking the Witch is the eleventh book in the Otherworld series, but it is the first to feature Savannah Levine as the main protagonist. Generally, I like to start a series at the beginning, but Armstrong has tried to write Otherworld in such a way that the books can largely stand on their own, and for the most part she succeeds in this. The series is written chronologically with the narrators changing from book to book. Until now, Savannah has been an important secondary character, but Waking the Witch allows her to take the spotlight.
The orphaned daughter of an infamous witch and a disreputable sorcerer, Savannah Levine is now twenty-one and ready to prove herself to her adoptive parents. Paige and Lucas are taking a much needed and well-deserved vacation, leaving Savannah to tend to their detective agency while they're gone. When a series of murders, possibly involving occult rituals, strikes the small town of Columbus, Washington, Savannah sees it as an opportunity to finally work on an investigation on her own. She's not the only one interested in these murders--a Dallas detective, brother to one of the victims, is also in town and the local police are being less than helpful despite some obvious suspects. Not surprisingly, things get complicated fast and it truly seems as though there is something supernatural going on. Soon, Savannah finds herself in more danger than she anticipated, but she is still anxious to take care of things without having to depend on others.
I liked the character of Savannah quite a bit and, aside from her supernatural abilities, found her to be realistic in addition to being sympathetic--she's smart and sexy, but not without a few flaws and personality quirks. She can be pushy at times, and doesn't hesitate to bend and stretch the rules, but ultimately she's got her heart in the right place. One thing I never really got a good handle on was the magic system. Obviously, rituals can be involved to some extent, but frequently Savannah just stated that she was using a spell without explicitly establishing how. Personally, I like my magic systems to be a little more thoroughly explained. There also were some minor inconsistencies, although maybe I'm just not knowledgeable enough about the Otherworld world. Particularly, I was surprised that Savannah wasn't able to tell when she was in the presence of another witch, especially after stating that sorcerers and witches could recognize each other on sight.
Overall, I enjoyed Waking the Witch--it was a quick read and the mystery was interesting and engaging. For the most part, I didn't feel that I was at much of a disadvantage even though this was my first Otherworld novel; references were made to previous books and events, and while these will certainly mean more to established readers of the series I was never confused by them. However, some of the major twists toward the end of the story will make much more sense to someone who is already familiar with Otherworld and its characters. Still, even without that knowledge, I enjoyed the plot twists and was able to follow what was going on. All in all, Waking the Witch wasn't a bad place to start the series. Of course, while the book is a complete story within itself, Armstrong does leave things off with a bit of cliffhanger, so I expect we'll be hearing more from Savannah again sooner rather than later.