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Monday, January 8, 2018

Sworn To The Night by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Double Or Nothing
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cold Spectrum

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Marie Reinhart is an NYPD detective on the trail of a serial killer. When she sleeps, though, she dreams of other lives; she dreams of being a knight, in strange wars and strange worlds. On the other side of the city, Nessa Roth is a college professor trapped in a loveless marriage, an unwilling prop in a political dynasty. She's also a fledgling witch, weaving poppets and tiny spells behind closed doors.

When Marie's case draws her into Nessa's path, sparks fly. What comes next is more than a furtive whirlwind affair; it's the first pebbles of an avalanche. Nessa and Marie are the victims of a curse that has pursued them across countless lifetimes; a doom designed to trap them in a twisted living fairy tale, with their romance fated to end in misery and death.

They aren't going out without a fight. As they race to uncover the truth, forces are in motion across the country. In Las Vegas, a professional thief is sent on a deadly heist. In a Detroit back alley, witches gather under the guidance of a mysterious woman in red. Just outside New York, an abandoned zoo becomes the hunting-ground for servants of a savage and alien king. The occult underground is taking sides and forming lines of battle. Time is running out, and Nessa and Marie have one chance to save themselves, break the curse, and demand justice.

This time, they're writing their own ending.

FORMAT/INFO: Sworn To The Night is 428 pages long divided over sixty-four chapters with a prologue, three interludes. Narration is in the third-person, via Nessa Roth, Marie Reinhart, Carolyn Saunders, Daniel Faust, Harmony Black, Mourner Of the Red Rocks, Dora, Richard Roth, Alton Roth, Calypso, and a few others . This is the first volume of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy.

January 2, 2018 marks the North American e-book publication of Sworn To The Night and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sworn To The Night (STTN) is the culmination of a lot of threads and characters, chief among them as two whom we previously meet in The Revanche Cycle books by the author. The true inclinations about this whole "story" were first mentioned in the Revanche Cycle (book III) and then later gloriously expanded in The Castle Doctrine (Daniel Faust book 6). If that might seem confusing, then dear reader then welcome to the universe(s) of Craig Schaefer wherein everything is connected and only now (after 15 books, 1 novella & 3 short stories) are we getting to see where the connecting threads lie.

STTN is the first book of the Wisdom's Grave trilogy but it is a book in the making from 2014 (wherein Craig first wrote the Revanche Cycle). It is a book that can be read as a standalone story but for readers who have read and enjoyed any or all of the author's previous works (the Daniel Faust books, the Harmony Black volumes, & The Revanche Cycle) will love it the most. The story begins in the future or present (depending on how you want to look at it) wherein we encounter famed fantasy hack Carolyn Saunders (first introduced in The Castle Doctrine) get picked up by an unknown group and is forced to recant the story of "the Witch & the Knight". Carolyn mentions that it's a fairy tale and a fairly grim one at that but nevertheless accedes to her captor's wishes.

We are then brought back to the past or present (depending on again your perspective) wherein we meet Marie Reinhart, an NYPD detective currently hunting a missing prostitute called "Baby blue". Eagle eyed readers might remember that we first have encountered Marie and her partner Tony in Glass Predator (Harmony Black #3) but that was only a small taste. Within this book we get to meet her fully, a determined cop who's haunted by her very tragic past (Revanche Cycle readers might have a solid inkling about this) who looks out for the small guy with an obsession. Teased by her roomate and her partner for her love of the simplistic fantasy volumes (by Carolyn Saunders) that she has devoured from her teenage years, Marie is nevertheless no less focussed on her job but some in her department don't look at it the same way. We are also introduced to Nessa (Vanessa) Fieri-Roth, the timid & mentally troubled professor and wife of Richard Roth (son of senator Alton Roth who has been in the background of both Harmony Black & Daniel Faust books). Nessa has been trying to figure out her life's purpose and her skills but is stymied within her personal and professional lives by a variety of agents.

Things take an interesting turn wherein Marie makes her way to Vanessa's home and the two characters meet each other for the first time in this lifetime. This is where the metaphorical sparks begin, of course this isn't your typical love story. Hell I'm not even sure that we can it a love story, is it love if two characters are fated to be together even if for a short time? That's a fundamental question posed in this story, are these characters truly their own or are they marionettes dancing to the tune of the "cosmic story". As far as I can, the answer to the former part is a resounding yes, they are their own people and their love is something that neither of them can explain but they feel just right for each other.

This book is solidly about characters and none shine brighter than Nessa and Marie. Infact it's Nessa who truly gets to shine as we get to see her transformation from a meak mouse into the terrifying Owl we have seen and met before. Previously when we meet Nessa in the Revanche Cycle, she seemed like a onenote villain and it's to Craig's credit that she becomes a terrifying person but one that readers get attached to. In this book as well, we get to see her descent into the Owl and it's a terrifying one. Make no mistake, Nessa is no hero and she makes no qualms about it. She and Marie have been brought together and taken apart violently over and ad infinitum. We even get to see a scene play out that was previously featured in the Revanche Cycle and it was a delight to read. For newer readers it will give them a background as to what happened before and give seasoned readers a clue as to what comes next.

Marie also takes center stage in this story and she's as terrifying as ever. Mari Renault was her previous reincarnation and as the warrior suffering from PTSD and yet striving to achieve an ideal, she stole reader's hearts (including mine). She was the hero that the world didn't deserve but yet needed. The characters who met her were bemused but no less inspired. Marie is very much in Mari's mould as the "cosmic story" dictates but is still an endearing character. When we meet her, we get to see her determination, her hard-edged obsession with the law (whom she sees as her liege) and possibly her transformation. There are other characters in the play and I won't reveal them but safe to say that there are other witches in the fray and I can't wait to read more on the main one. There are also some memorable cameo appearances from Daniel Faust, Harmony Black and a couple of other minor but important characters from the other series. Lastly as is the case with other Craig Schaefer books, characterization remains a solid point and readers will have their favorites namely a NYC librarian who's funny and badass all the same.

This book doesn't feature all out action sequences like the Harmony Black series or the noir plot twists of the Daniel Faust ones. But make no mistake, this volume is no less effective than either one of them. This book is a slow burn and one wherein the consequences are the same if not worse. I loved how the author set up the story and then let it unspool and unspool it does (in quite a horrific way). As mentioned in the blurb, there's a potential serial killer hunting prostitutes but the truth is much worse. I loved how the author explored this angle and then tied it to the Network and also to elements that have bubbled up to the surface in the recent Harmony Black books. We also get a clearer look into the production of "Ink" the designer drug that has been mentioned extensively in the Daniel Faust volumes. Especially we get a solid idea about how it's tied into the mythology of the series. What I was looking for was an explanation about the phenomenon of "The Owl Lives", which isn't quite explained but this is the first volume only and there are two more to go.

This book in my view is a like an atmospheric thriller which builds up on tension, characters and plot elements which bring it to a resounding climax. This I believe is the highlight of the book and featured the author's version of a magic vs science fight. You have to read it to be enthralled and I certainly was. Lastly remember the dual timeline I mentioned in the start with Carolyn Saunders, we get a solid twist to that plotline as well.

Since I've gushing so much about this book, one might wonder what are the drawbacks to this book and yes there are a couple (YMMV with them though). Primarily the book's pace in the start is on the slow side and slowly builds up as the chapters go along. For readers of the Faust & Black books, this might be perhaps a different experience which they might not enjoy all too well. For newer readers, this will a very personal thing, some might like it some might not. The second and last thing which stuck a craw in my mind was that the final twist on the villains is very much the same with regards to what happened in the Cold Spectrum book (Harmony Black #4). Craig Schaefer is too talented an author to be repeating this twist and I feel that there will other readers for whom this might seem the same.

CONCLUSION: Sworn To The Night is a book that leaves a mark perhaps in the same way as the Owl intends to leave one on this world. STTN is a book that is like a nine course meal, it takes its time to get to the final course but leaves you sated completely and wanting more. I loved this book from cover to cover and can't wait to read the sequel tentatively titled "Desolation Boulevard".


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