Book Review: The SERPENT DAUGHTER Has Gotten Lost In The Weeds

Serpent Daughter (Witchy War #4)
Written by D.J. Butler
Published by Baen
November 3, 2020
Paperback, 815 pages

I have reached the end of the road for the Witchy War series. I’m not saying it’s the final book; just the last one that’s been written and released.

So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books. DJ Butler has done a fantastic job with the world building of an alternate America and its history. His character development has been complex and the overall story has been gripping. But I feel that as we came to the end of this book it’s become too muddy, like the banks of the Mississippi.

Serpent Daughter picks up with Sarah Calhoun now sitting on the throne as queen of Cahokia. The armies of her uncle Thomas Penn and his Imperial Ohio Company have surrounded her kingdom. Beside the looming physical threat, it does not look well for our queen because she has overtaxed her energy by using magic from the events of the last book and is on the verge of death. A piece of ancient magic needs to be performed to help move her spirit from her physical body and into a separate realm. It seems that only an act of the goddess will move all the chess pieces together so Sarah can live.

I think it’s here when Butler possibly starts to lose the reader, when the plan is having to be spelled out on how to get everyone together who is needed. We learn several kings are needed to perform the spell. Each come from different kingdoms and come with their own backstory. While some kings arrive at the same time on their own, others have to be helped to reach Cahokia because of some situations created by the Imperial Ohio Company. The story bounces around between these different pieces as well as other characters their stories. Because it can take a while to circle back around to any one of these kings, it can take a bit before remembering the backstory of that particular monarch.

In my past reviews, I’ve enjoyed the different characters and their stories and how they all are woven together. However, too many logs are being thrown onto the fire and it’s become hard to keep track of it all. This is a distraction from the story. And since it may be a while to come back to a character it becomes easy to forget they’re in this story. Or they’re being under-utilized.

For instance, Margaret, Sarah’s sister. She’s traveling with Nathaniel, their brother. He can travel between realms and she protects his body when he does. This has been her role since she was introduced. Sarah’s role is clear. Nathaniel’s role is clear. But what is Margaret except a family bodyguard?

Another is Kinta Jane. She was a mute whore in New Orleans that Sarah and crew took advantage of a few books back. Since then, Kinta Jane joined with a Franklin actor to deliver a message to Penn, ended up with a Dutchman and giant and has now travelled to Cahokia. Her secret power? She has the tongue of a dog (literally) and can silence them when they’re nearby. She seems to be sticking around because…well her friend, the actor, is dead but hangs out with Nathaniel in the other realm and…well I’m not sure what her next part will be.

Then there’s the slew of men around other notable characters. They perform tasks for them, as workers or guards or errand boys. You learn about their history and what’s in their heads with regard to the overall story in the book. Plenty of pages are spent on them but by the time the book ends you’re left wondering if they’ll be back or if they were filling up space. I’m not saying that Butler creates characters just to fluff up the story but there are those side story lines that do seem frivolous.

Speaking of getting lost, where are the bad guys? We were introduced to Thomas Penn, Ezekiel Angleton, the Heron King, Oliver Cromwell (the Necromancer), and Robert Hooke to name a few (the more prominent ones). As we have moved farther into the story, we’ve mainly dealt with the minions of Penn and the others have disappeared. We hear about the Heron King, stories or rumors that feed theories, but that’s about it. There may be a piece of a chapter about Cromwell because of his dark magic that Penn is using; however, I come back around to why he gets lost in the story.

Now, as much as I can complain about the loss of characters in the story, I will give Butler credit for providing an index at the end of the books with a list of most of the characters we encounter. It has their name and a brief description. This is helpful but it can also be distracting if you are in the middle of a scene and need to stop to figure out who this person is – and if they are even listed.

So take all these characters, attach a string to each one, have those strings wind around a board crossing each other, and all hopefully meeting at Sarah and this is what we have. It looks like a conspirator theorist’s board. (I’m not saying aliens but ALIENS!) I feel a bit lost. I like this story, but too much is going on at once and it makes it hard to relax and enjoy.

I haven’t felt this overwhelmed by any of the other books. I was sad to come to the end of the last three but with Serpent Daughter I was relieved. I do want to continue Sarah’s story and find out what happens to her main circle of companions, but I hope that the pile of extra characters doesn’t become so overwhelming that I want to walk away from the series. Butler has done such a wonderful job up till now.

I’m not sure when the next Witchy War novel will be out but I’ll be willing to give it a go because it’s a good story. I just hope to not get lost in the weeds.

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