RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Mark of the Witch by Maggie Shayne

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Title: Mark of the Witch
Author: Maggie Shayne
Publication Info: Harlequin MIRA 2012
ISBN: 9780778313335
Genre: Paranormal

Book Mark of the Witch This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Harper Grey. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:     

A lapsed Wiccan, Indira Simon doesn't believe in magic anymore.

But when strange dreams of being sacrificed to an ancient Babylonian god have her waking up with real rope burns on her wrists, she's forced to acknowledge that she may have been too hasty in her rejection of the unknown.

Then she meets mysterious and handsome Father Tomas. Emerging from the secrecy of an obscure Gnostic sect, he arrives with stories of a demon, a trio of warrior witches-and Indira's sacred calling. 

Yet there's something even Tomas doesn't know, an inescapable truth that will force him to choose between saving the life of the woman he's come to love-and saving the world.

And here is Harper Grey's review:

I wanted to love Mark of the Witch. I really did. Everything in the blurb pressed my salivate buttons: ancient mythology, witchcraft and Gnostic Christianity working together, a witch and a priest both experiencing crises of faith. A sassy heroine, a cucumber-cool hero. Since reading Time’s Echo, I even thought the time slip sounded pretty fun. Having read it I can see how the novel might appeal, particularly to readers who enjoy Dan Brown-type novels (which, don’t get me wrong, is not at all meant to be derogatory); in me, however, it ultimately found the wrong reader.

Part of my wrong-readerness comes from an incredible pickiness in prose. I’m a huge fan of lyrical prose a la Robin McKinley, so as soon as Indira’s snap-crackle-prose kicked in, I knew I was in trouble. That’s not really a criticism per se; everyone has their own favourite styles of prose. It did, however, present an immersion barrier to me personally and immediately set my relationship with this book a bit off-kilter. I eventually did get caught up in the action, but not without a whole mess of ‘ergh’ accumulating in the background. Some of these concerns are, in the long run, pretty minor: For instance, Indira swears frequently for (what feels like) no reason at all, you know, about shit and stuff. Swearing in and of itself doesn’t bother me, but much of the swearing in Mark of the Witch just felt shoehorned into the narrative to make Indira seem more ‘edgy’. It really doesn’t. It makes her sound like a petulant teenager.

Others, though, are more serious. I became incredibly irritated by Indira’s attitude towards Wicca and magic, particularly in her lack of anything more than a superficial engagement with it. She treats the whole belief system with scorn, yet becomes offended when the priests do the same. The fact that she became a ‘lapsed’ Wiccan because the spell she performed to find her soul mate allegedly did not work nearly made me throw the book across the room. It sort of undermines your image as a strong, independent, modern woman if the sum total of your faith rests in being able to find your dream dude.

If Ms Shayne’s representation of Wicca struck me as flippant, her vision of priesthood seemed like downright caricature. Why exactly Dom and Tomas needed to be Gnostic priests I never fully understood, but it was really the fanaticism and diametric opposition to witchcraft and magic which Father Dom presented that drove me up a wall. In the context of the time slip I can understand why she emphasized the opposition between Indira and Lady Rayne on one side, and Fathers Dom and Tomas on the other; however, the lack of awareness and nuance in this opposition made it feel like Ms Shayne was just playing to stereotype. Even Indira plays into this stereotype, and she’s supposed to have the hots for Tomas:

“Tomas is not the enemy, love.” [Lady Rayne] sighed […]. “He’s a good man.”

“He’s a priest! His ancestors burned ours, or have you forgotten that?”

(Shayne 2012: 140)

For about the first three-quarters of the book I felt like the romance relied a lot more on tell than show; for instance, having known her for little more than a day, Tomas thinks she’s charming his socks off. I call baloney. At this point Indira’s had 90 pages to work her magic on me, which is more than Tomas has had, and I have failed to find her sympathetic, let alone charming. However, once Tomas and Indira begin to give themselves over to their time slip-selves, had been stuck in a cabin for a few days, and had shared a clandestine touch or two, the romance picked up by leaps and bounds, and by the end of the book I was almost sure that they genuinely cared for each other, and weren’t just acting out a past-life drama. Almost.

Although, to be honest, the extent to which the time slip had to do with possession or past-life drama was never entirely clear to me. This made it difficult for me to believe in the affection between Indira and Tomas – sure, their physical attraction was clear from the outset, but the emotional depth of their feelings seemed to come entirely from this past life. It was just so real, you know? Oddly, despite Indira receiving real wounds at the hands of her dream figures (why does your ‘sister’ need to slice you with a sword to get you to remember things?), I didn’t feel the realness. Everything just seemed to happen so quickly and without any sincere reflection, that while I followed the action I never really believed in it.

Part of the problem there was that the characters, with the sole exception of Rayne, whom I loved, were just so dumb. Father Dom had the excuse of being the moustache-twirling villain par excellence (if sans moustache), but Indira and Tomas seemed to have about half a brain cell between the two of them. Forget needing to use their words, they needed to use their logic. That thing which Tomas needs to realize, according to the blurb? I realized it in about 60 pages. He took two thirds of the book. Also, why did Tomas have to be ambiguously Spanish-speaking? His name is pronounced to-MAHS, he says de nada once, he looks like a Latino. And then? It went nowhere just like the ‘Gnostic’ part of ‘Gnostic priest’. I really hope that Rayne turns out to be the sequel fodder I suspect her to be, since she seemed to be the sole voice of reason among the four of them.

Reading over my review, it sounds like I absolutely hated this book. And, in all fairness, I probably only finished it so that I could write this review. But once the four hied themselves hence to the cabin in the woods, the narrative began to pick up steam and, while I still remained unconvinced, I felt that the narrative got in its own way much less. The National Treasure- or Dan Brown-esque hunt for the materials necessary to realize both Tomas and Indira’s goals was engaging, and the physical scenes between them were well-written. I found the demon intriguing, and the twist one that I perhaps should have seen coming, but was nevertheless surprised by. I sort of wish both the demon and the dream-world had received more development, because I did find them genuinely interesting; indeed, they were the most interesting parts of the story for me. On a more technical note, Ms Shayne shifts between Indira and Tomas by using first and third person narration, respectively, which worked really well for me: I was grateful for the distinct clarity between their viewpoints.

We still don’t know who the modern-day equivalent of Indira’s sisters are (though I have my very obvious suspicions about at least one). Despite my affection for Rayne, I’m not sure that I trust Ms Shayne to carry me through the other two books of the trilogy. That said, having come so far in the first instalment, I am a bit curious to see where the demon and the witch sisters will go from here.


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  1. 1
    Jenn says:

    I read Mark of the Witch a couple of months ago, and I have to agree wholeheartedly with this review (with one exception; I felt the shift between first-person and third-person was really jarring).

    I’d just come off a “reading hiatus” (life got in the way!) and I thought I would rediscover the paranormal romance genre through Maggie Shayne’s new trilogy. I remembered reading her books years ago and loving them, but Mark of the Witch was a big disappointment for me.

    This though:

    The fact that she became a ‘lapsed’ Wiccan because the spell she performed to find her soul mate allegedly did not work nearly made me throw the book across the room. It sort of undermines your image as a strong, independent, modern woman if the sum total of your faith rests in being able to find your dream dude.

    So much this! I think I might have groaned out loud when I read this part of the book. It was ludicrous, especially when Indira reveals that she’d been able to do “little” things before she gave up on magic, like making parking spaces open up. Who would give up on magic if they had proof, no matter how small, that it worked?

    Anyway, seeing as I’d picked up all three books in the trilogy at once, I started on the second (Daughter of the Spellcaster) but didn’t get past the first couple of chapters for a whole bunch of reasons. I ended up donating the lot to the local library; hopefully they’ll find love somewhere!

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