Witchy Winter (Witchy Eye #2)
Written by D.J. Butler
Published by Baen
April 3, 2018
Paperback, 824 pages
Just like any other class, you need to have an understanding of a subject’s foundation before moving forward. If D.J. Butler’s first novel in the Witchy War series, Witchy Eye, is the foundation, then the second book Witchy Winter builds up the structure by introducing the players.
In the first book, we met Sarah Calhoun, who learns she’s the daughter of the king and queen of Cahokia in what we know as the Ohio River Valley. She also learns she has two siblings who were also hidden from Thomas Penn, the emperor of the New World — and incidentally, the man who destroyed her family. By the end of the book she and her comrades were leaving the deep south of Louisiana and Appalachee and following the Mississippi to her birthright land.
In Witchy Winter, the gloves come off. We begin to learn more about this alternative America’s politics. Sarah and crew come to discover that reclaiming the Serpent Throne won’t be as simple as announcing her name. She’ll need to defeat other potential candidates and be blessed by a goddess. To add to this, she’s having to protect her land and her people with new alliances from an ancient mystical magic that could destroy everything.
Once again, I give Butler credit for his world building. First, I really want to talk about the introduction of the Native American aspects of the New World. One of the storylines follows through with Maiingan, who is Anishinaabe. His wife bore twins, setting him on a journey to find The Healer, who happens to be a very important character in the book. The stories of his tribe and The Healer’s change following the beliefs and Spirits of Maiingan’s people are fascinating. The detail Butler has for the material shows he did not simply dive into this character but has researched to understand native cultures and how to blend it together with no offense, all the while mixing it with the fantasy of the alternative America. Butler’s storytelling is as mesmerizing as learning about real life Native cultures can be, and I’d personally be interested to see more of this from him.
I love Sarah’s group’s journey north, following the Mississippi to the Ohio River. I can picture this in my head because of numerous trips I’ve taken there over the years but now the land has beastfolk charging through it. Like the natives, we are more thoroughly introduced to the beastkind, learning the good and the bad of the mixed beings. We see how the beastfolk and the sons of Adam work together through their differences and the challenges of becoming a single functioning unit. There are barriers that need to be worked through, language, culture, and the battle for their souls.
In my review of Witchy Eye, I spoke of the importance of religion in the books. We’d seen Christianity and magic, which could be considered being anti-religion. In Witchy Winter we continue with a Christianity baseline but are introduced to the natives beliefs, Voodoo, other gods, and a bit more of the dark magic. I mentioned the battle for the beastfolk souls. There are theological conversations between beastkind characters and a priest that are interesting and give insight to what the beastfolk believe. I also find it interesting how Sarah has her own Christian beliefs, yet she has to believe in a goddess who’s appointing the next person to sit on the Serpent Throne and rule. It makes you wonder if she has any internal struggle since idols and false gods are not permitted. But at the same time, I do realize that the story takes place in an alternative America, so I wonder if it’s an alternative Bible (can that be a thing?). Just like the map lines being blurred, the religious lines could also be blurred and creating a strange twist in our mind. I mean, we also have a clergyman working with voodoo magic while praying to God.
Butler continues to build on character relationships from the first while establishing new ones. As the characters’ journeys drive them towards a singular location, some unlikely pairs are made. These are as complicated as what was developed in the first book. As we learn more, in my mind I’m trying to see if I can figure out the larger picture for them and how they may affect Sarah‘s quest for the throne or Cahokia’s independence, and the fall of Thomas Penn. But don’t think all the new characters are against the Emporer; it appears they’re out to help him. But in my experience, you can’t always trust the bad guy’s friends. Plus, I’m curious just how much Penn is acting on his own and how much he may be a puppet of a larger demon. I’ve got thoughts on this and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the third book.
So does this mean I’m going to read the third book in this series? Duh! Of course. As I sit here writing this, I’m also staring at the next book, Witchy Kingdom.
I do recommend the series so far. Witchy Eye drew me in, Witchy Winter is dropping me into the rabbit hole as I try to figure out where D.J. Butler is taking us. Sometimes a story goes through a growing pain for the second part, but I feel that Butler has managed to keep the story, the characters, and this alternative world fresh and up to par with the first book, which makes me excited to see what he delivers in the third.