Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book Mass Market Paperback – Oct 27 2009
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"Ms. Francis sends urban fantasy on its head in this fast-paced, dynamic story. Loved it, could not put it down. Unusual and terrific."
—Patricia Briggs, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of Hunting Ground
About the Author
Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. She has also written The Crosspointe Chronicles, which include The Cipher and The Black Ship. Diana teaches in the English department at the University of Montana Western. She is a lover of chocolate, Victoriana, and sparkly things. For more a lot more information including where to go to read her blog, maps of her worlds, updated news, and other odd and fun tidbits, visit DianaPFrancis.com or follow her @dianapfrancis.
Top Customer Reviews
Diana Francis has written a world of Urban Fantasy characters that will both tug at your heart and rev up your anxiety level- a world of Shadowblades (the sun will kill them) and Sunspears (the darkness will kill them) each of whom is responsible for the protection of an elemental witch and his/her coven. But it just so happens that Max is the Prime Shadowblade and as the Prime it is her primary responsibility to protect her witch at all costs-even when she wants nothing to do but destroy the very life she has been compulsed to protect. An interesting conundrum for one of the most powerful and special Shadowblades the world of the magic and the Divine has ever seen.
The premise follows that the Guardians (a most powerful and omnipotent power) are angry at the world and want revenge against the humans who have forced ‘magic’ into hiding. Along the way, the Guardians have chosen to enlist the witches in their attempt but their refusal to help has started a war with the Divine and between each other. And there is only one person who holds the key and has the ability to stop the destruction-Max.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Max's phone rang. It was set to a high-pitched tone that most humans couldn't hear. But being human hadn't been Max's problem since 1979." -Bitter Night
First up, the good: Diana's fantasy background was a strength that she fully utilized in created the world of the Horngate Witches. Witches hold amazing power in Bitter Night. Shadowblades and Sunspears are human servants magically enhanced with superhuman abilities and senses. They are not that dissimilar from vampires: they can heal from most wounds, never grow old, and the sun (or moon depending on whether they are Sunspears or Shadowblades) is deadly to them. They even struggle with enlarged appetites (try 40 Big Macs at once).
Max (she adopted the name from the Mel Gibson character in The Road Warrior movies, though I think she is much more like Riggs from Lethal Weapon) is the Prime Shadowblade for the witch Giselle. Enslaved by the witch that made her, compelled to lay down her very life if necessary in order to keep Giselle safe, Max is not the grateful servant she's expected to be. Rather she is consumed with one thought: Revenge. It is the one hope that keeps her from walking out in to the sunlight that would kill her. When forces greater than even the witches threaten everything that Max has come to care about, she must learn to ally with her enemy and accept the role she must play as savior.
The cover art is what first attracted me to this book. And I love that Max is actually described like the cover depicts her. She even wears the cover outfit during a pivotal scene in the book. In that scene Max is forced into a test of endurance against another witch's Prime Shadowblade, Alexander (who I think deserved a spot on the cover as a significant number of chapters are written from his point of view).
The not-so good: Diana's fantasy background is both her strength and her weakness. The fantasy Horngate world is well realized with its own unique mythology (especially her take on Angels), the urban elements, however, are less so. There is very little interaction with the modern (outside) world, and while the characters all have cell phones and drive cars etc., apart from those details, this story could easily have been set a millennium ago with minor changes. I'm not sure if those small additions will be enough for hardcore urban fantasy lovers.
I'll also admit that it took me until about the midpoint to really get into this book. Max is a hard character and the circumstances of her life have made her very bitter (hence the title). At first, I struggled to see past that aspect of her. I understood her to a degree, I just didn't especially like her. That changed when she risked her life for Alexander not knowing if he would turn around and kill her later. Her loyalty to the Shadowblades in her command was also a contributing factor. She consistently put their welfare over her own need for revenge. It's hard not to admire that kind of selflessness.
I never really did warm up to Alexander. He didn't seem strong enough to be a realistic romantic lead for Max (the Angel on the other hand...). Nor did I ever believe the conflicting desire they supposedly felt for each other went beyond plain lust. Overall, I found his chapters to be the weakest in the book.
Bitter Night has its bitter moments, but strong world building and a heroine who proves herself by bravery and resourcefulness, even willingness to suffer in the stead of others make it worth reading. There is no cliffhanger ending, but Diana is far from finished with her Horngate Witches...and neither am I.
Sexual Content: Kissing.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book for being book 1 in a series. Usually I find the first book in series somewhat boring as there is a lot of set up and character building going on. So I was gladly surprised by this book. The only draw backs for me were a few times where things were just too unbelievable. For someone who was supposed to be a great warrior I was not impressed at some points with Alexander's warrior prowess, I also found it hard to believe at one point that they would linger and take a shower while in an enemy's stronghold, etc. Things like that bugged me but overall a wonderful book.
HIGH LEVEL: YES! Just that. YES! Yes, you should read this. Yes, you will like it. It was a seriously great read. Fast paced, high stakes, rich magical world with vivid, down to earth characters. I honestly wasn't sure after reading the first couple pages, but a few more pages in and I was HOOKED.
MYTHOS & STYLE: This is more of an Urban Fantasy than a romance, though there is a stronger element of romance than in many UFs. It was something of a blend of the two- a well-crafted blend. The magical world was cleverly written and diverse, ranging from witches to angels to hags. This could be considered a unique take on vampires- the Shadowblades and Sunspears. It was all very clever. Story is told from two perspectives- the female and male leads, which is interesting specifically because it isn't a true para-romance. It worked VERY well. The violence was fast and bloody and devastating. Not a faint hearted book.
CHARACTERS: Max, our heroine, is a strong lead. She makes a great central character- she has depth and flaws and enough anger to boil the words off the page. I felt her struggles from page one until the back cover. The supporting characters were all vibrant and full. Each of them sympathetic in their own way making up a great "band of brothers" type team. The "bad guys" were a little too stereotypical and lacked the same depth that the others had. Alexander, who was the male lead, was perhaps an even BETTER character than Max. He was something of a tragic hero- his 100+ year lifespan was very clear in how he was written. His loyalty, his strength, his struggles- wow. It was a real treat to watch Max & Alexander cautiously dance around each other.
BOTTOM LINE: I just loved this book and I could just go on and on about why. I couldn't put it down and I had no idea what to expect when I picked it up, so I'm sure I missed an appointment or two.
1. Ilona Andrew's gritty, post-apocalyptic magic vs technology world: Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1)
2. Karen Chance's two highly energetic, very sexy vamp series Touch the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, Book 1) and the related series (start reading Cassandra's series first) Midnight's Daughter (Dorina Basarab, Dhampir, Book 1)
3. Jocelyn Drake's vampire/were/demon centric series full of grit: Nightwalker (Dark Days, Book 1)
4. Jennifer Estep's stone-magic wielding, hard, cold, vicious assassin Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin, Book 1)
5. Jeaniene Frost's vamp mystery packed with action Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 1)
6. Chloe Neill's spunky vampire themed Some Girls Bite (Chicagoland Vampires, Book 1)
7. Marjorie Liu's cold and murky, though somewhat abstract series of inherited heroism The Iron Hunt (Hunter Kiss, Book 1)
8. Lilith Saintcrow's two series, dark & gritty Night Shift (Jill Kismet, Hunter, Book 1) and Working for the Devil (Dante Valentine, Book 1)
9. Nalini Singh's creative use of angels and vampires in Angels' Blood (Guild Hunter)
Max is a trained assassin. In fact, she is the head of an elite group of warriors called Shadowblades, who serve and protect powerful witches. She was tricked into service and is bitter and resentful about the whole thing. While out on a mission, she meets a rival blade, Alex who captures her interest. Her and Alex must band together (along with her other blades and even enemies) to neutralize the "Big Bad" that is coming their way.
Max started out strong as a character. I understood her resentment and felt her rage. But somewhere in the middle, she lost me. I found her actions to be reckless, childish and stupid. She constantly made the same types of mistakes. She would do things that a well-trained, effective, competent team leader would not. Part of me thought that Max had a death wish, but suicidal tendencies are not something that I look for in a heroine. The only saving grace for her was Alex.
Alex is a rival blade who has been around over 100 years. He has seen it all. Alex has been betrayed and abandoned by his witch and his band of Shadowblades before he hooks up with Max and her crew. I liked Alex. He was smart, capable and effective. The wild, recklessness that was ever present with Max, wasn't there with him. I respected this character in ways that I couldn't respect Max.
I won't bore you with a regurgitation of the mythology involved in this story. It wasn't that inspiring. It managed to be boring and somewhat confusing all at the same time. Character development and plot are the most important elements in a book. While the mythology bored me, the author did a great job of sucking me into the characters that inhabit this world of Shadowblades and witches. I understood most of their motivations and reasoning. The biggest problem with the book was her heroine, Max.
Great urban fantasy transports the reader into a dark and gritty world where the heroes fight the good fight against overwhelming odds and huge obstacles. The characters aren't perfect, but they have the intelligence and grit to make the reader respect and like them. "Bitter Night" had several characters that I could plug into. Unfortunately, Max wasn't really one of them.
"Bitter Night" had just enough qualities to make it an okay read. The verdict is still out on whether the series will turn into something special.