Traitor to the Crown: The Patriot Witch Mass Market Paperback – Apr 28 2009
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“This secret history about the founding of the country brims with dark secrets, power, and magic.”—Tobias Buckell, New York Times Bestselling Author of HALO: THE COLE PROTOOL
About the Author
C. C. Finlay was born in 1964 in New York City but soon thereafter was banished to rural Ohio. His childhood was divided equally between playing in the woods and reading his way through the fiction shelves of his small town’s Carnegie library. Like Jay Gatsby, he studied abroad briefly at the University of Oxford, and it was there, at New College, founded in 1379 around a remnant of the old city wall built by William the Conqueror, that he fell in love with history. He studied literature at Capital University and did graduate work in history at the Ohio State University, where he was a research assistant on two award-winning books about the U.S. Constitution. He started writing fiction after the birth of his first son because he wanted to set an example about chasing one’s dreams. He lives in Columbus with his wife, Rae, and two sons, all smart readers, who keep him honest.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Twenty-year old Proctor Brown, a farmer and militiaman, spots a charm worn by Major Pitcairn, a British "lobster". Though Proctor is supposed to be wooing his sweetheart Emily's father, the British soldiers pull him into a brawl, where after he is forced to ram a knife into Pitcairn, he discovers that the officer with the charm is invincible. Proctor's worrying about making a good impression on Emily's father fades as both war and magic come crashing into his life.
In Finlay's mythos, magic in colonial America was made famous by the Salem witch trials; Proctor, as betrayed by his name, is a descendent of Salem witches. Fearing for persecution, his mother has taught him very little of his inherited abilities, and discourages him from discovering more, both for fear of the principle and of losing her only son. In the beginning, Proctor is only capable of scrying, but through the course of the story, becomes capable of invoking protection and reversal spells that become crucial in determining the outcome (which we know in hindsight) of the battle of Bunker Hill.
Magic, in this saga, seems more plausible due to its limitations; flights are illusions, but magic can spontaneously combust things (and people), summon zombies and spirits, heal, and be channeled. The exact words of your spell don't matter, if you don't find a focus; thus, it's interesting to see blood used as a focus, and verses from the bible as incantations for spells. We do get to see a bit of that nostalgic "learn magic in a school-like setting," when Proctor is exiled a la the Quaker Highway to stay at the Farm, a sanctuary of witches protected by enchantment from outside view. However, Proctor's male gender, in part, creates some discrimination against him in the Farm, composed of a small group of female witches. There is virtually no sexual tension, however, other than the differences in culture between males and females.
While the author cites inspiration from his experience researching original documents from this era, historical details do not weigh the book down, and the setting of the book seems more like a stereotypical "pop culture" conveyance. The lack of subplots slows the story, but keeps it clear that our story is about the Patriot Witch----not quite a wizard, but just a determined and able colonial man named Proctor Brown.
Overall, I have four chief complaints about this book.
1) The author cleverly dropped clues that a character was going to turn out to be a traitor. It seemed to be building up to something. Instead, it's anti-climactic as the big reveal is in the past tense. Oh yeah, she left last night and by the way, she betrayed us. No confrontation, no drama. What a let down.
2) Another character - supposedly one of the most powerful witches - is dispatched as almost an afterthought. Her death takes place in just a couple of sentences. However, the author takes far more space to describe the digging of said character's grave. Again - where is the confrontation, the excitement, the drama as this powerful character meets her end?
3) Finally, while the book is a bit grisly at times, it doesn't go overboard and most of the deaths are either soldiers or villains. That's why the unnecessary and brutal slaying of a little boy caught me completely off guard. I know this is a work of fiction, but I was so turned off by it that I considered not finishing the book. We know the widow was evil. We didn't need more proof. I personally think the author could have achieved the same effect with the child being gravely injured but then healed by the healing spells of the witches. It would have felt much more in tune with the tone set up to that point.
4) Finally, I would love to know more about the type of protagonist the author was intending to create. Proctor Brown is not a very likable guy much of the time. The author goes out of the way to show him saying the wrong thing, hurting people's feelings, making brash moves (repeatedly) that endanger others and being somewhat wishy-washy and unheroic. While I applaud the author for not making a cookie-cutter hero, I would have liked to have seen some growth during the course of the book. Instead, Brown seems just as clueless at the end as he does at the beginning.
All that being said, I am considering buying and reading the sequel "A Spell for the Revolution." I still find the overall premise compelling and am interested in knowing more about what happens to these characters - even if I didn't care for some aspects of the first book.
Finlay does a whole lot of things right in this book (setting it far, far above Katherine Kurtz's disappointing 1996 Two Crowns for America, the only other work I've run into that handles witches and the American Revolution). His characters are human, believable, and sympathetic. They know weakness and uncertainty; they make mistakes; they change their minds. For the most part the emotional interactions between these characters are handled with a subtle, even lovely, touch. Finlay conveys big, important, tragic things without melodrama, both at the personal level and at the "Shot Heard Round the World" level. Which is not to say this book is the literary equivalent of a chick flick; on the contrary, the battles--again, both large-scale and small--are visceral and gripping, and they read fast. Even the reader familiar with the historical encounters can suspend that knowledge of the outcome and worry over how things will turn out.
In fact, the integration of history with fiction is something Finlay always does well. (His 2002 novelet "We Come Not to Praise Washington" was a finalist for the Sidewise Award for alternate history). Finlay is a trained historian who's done plenty of academic work on this era, but don't let that scare you off, because he's a storyteller first. None of this reads as dry history; in fact this novel manages to breathe real life into an era that everyone knows at least something about, reminding us that the patriots and tories of the American Revolution had real-life, tough decisions to make, balancing love and family and fear against any political considerations. People died, many of them senselessly. Others were displaced or went hungry. Where pop history forgets them and academic history might render them dry figures, Finlay's characters fear and feel these losses. Maintaining historical gender roles while writing strong female characters is another place Finlay excels. The prose and dialogue convey the period and lifestyle well while remaining seamlessly readable, resorting neither to modern slang nor stilted historical usage. (Yes, as another reviewer noted--there's a stretch of thees and thous. But this comes from someone who would indeed have spoken like that, doesn't actually happen often or last long, and even gets noticed and discussed by the main characters later.) History geeks will enjoy having a few fun tidbits thrown their way, such as the answer to the historical mystery of the shot that started it all; similarly, the dialogue near the end over the name of a hill where a battle was fought manages to be both funny and sadly profound.
All of the above said, while this is an excellent book, it is not a perfect book. For instance, a long stretch of the story relies upon the POV character not communicating information he has to the characters around him; I didn't buy his reason for this, in large part because he never quite explains it. Perhaps his reason was valid, but I wanted him to at least acknowledge (to the reader inside his head) that he's withholding info and why, especially as the people around him discuss wishing they knew that piece of information. But about the time I was starting to worry that it would annoy me if the whole book relied upon what felt like a contrived lack of communication, all was revealed. From then out, the characters' logic and knowledge, or lack thereof, made sense, making this one, fairly early incident one of the few things that bothered me.
All in all, this book is a great read. I look forward to the next book in the trilogy, A Spell for the Revolution (and yay, it's due out next month, so we don't even have to wait very long!)
It's no easy thing being a witch in 1775 New England. It's a thing Proctor's mother has tried to keep well hidden, to the point she hasn't taught her son much about their abilities. Proctor can scry some, but often doesn't understand what he sees. He longs to get a grasp on his talents, and after a muster goes horribly wrong, he is given the opportunity to do just that. As Proctor discovers this side of himself, an entirely new world opens--just as one begins to for the country.
Proctor's adventures in Revolutionary New England are filled with all you could hope for. It is a coming of age story, it is a romance, it is a magical journey through our country's bloody history. And? Look out for the zombies. Win!
Finlay does for the Revolutionary War what Novik did for the Napoleonic with her Temeraire books; this is a rich blend of history and fantasy, that will only leave you wanting more when all is said and done. Fortunately, books two and three are coming in May and June. The wait will not be long.
C.C. Finlay is most definitely on that list. There's an ease to his use of language, a rich tapestry of setting and character that immediately pulls me in, and his stories are always fresh in their plotting. I've yet to be disappointed in reading any of his work.
Finlay's latest historical fantasy novel, The Patriot Witch, provides an extra bonus as it's set against the rich AND realistic backdrop of America's struggle for independence (a personal favorite historical period). War is not pretty and Finlay never shies from showing us the clear and dirty details without ever slowing down the story. If you wanted to fight for freedom, more power to you. Don't have a rifle? Just wait a few moments. Someone else will fall and you can use theirs. If nothing else, Finlay makes it clear that a pragmatic mind is the only thing that keeps you alive in the midst of battle... if you're lucky.
As it turns out, luck - or to be more specific, MAGIC, may have something to do with staying alive as well.
While there's ample historic underpinnings to The Patriot's Witch, the story's heart lies with Finlay's protagonist Proctor Brown, a 20 year-old young farmer and minuteman. Proctor learns many a painful lesson in this first part of the Traitor to the Crown trilogy. Coming of age during the American Revolution is one thing. Discovering the dark ugly side of magic is another. Up until the story's kicked into gear, Proctor's only exposure to magic is the benign art of scrying - the ability to see into the future (though interpretation is key as he painfully discovers). He soon learns that his dreams of peaceful farming have no place in the harsh realities of a war reaching far beyond the battlegrounds of Lexington and Bunker Hill into the realms of the rights and wrong of magical power.
It is that exploration of what defines right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, which makes up a sizeable portion of this novel. Finlay allows the reader to share in Proctor's confusion, discovery and realizations by exposing the character to witches loyal to opposing sides in the colonies' fight for independence. Desperate to hold on to their lands, the Brits will do whatever is necessary... including enlisting witches of dark magic to defeat their enemies. The American witches, however, (ever the underdogs) resist the use of life taking magics, even when it comes at a price.
Yes, there's a metaphorical element to the story with bad witches as the British (the bad guys) and good witches as the Americans (that would be us good guys). That said, several threads are set up in this first novel that make promise of a more complex, less easily defined sense of good vs. evil. In fact, as fun as this first book was, I'm a bit impatient to start the second one (A Spell for the Revolution) as I'm eager to see how Proctor and the colonies maintain their youthful optimism as the Revolution's first blush subsides and the harsh realities of fighting a war with limited resources can make the line between good and evil all the thinner.