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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Witch who Courted Death by Maria Lewis


Official Author Website
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Maria Lewis is an author, journalist and screenwriter based in Sydney, Australia. Getting her start as a police reporter, her writing on pop culture has appeared in publications such as the New York Post, Guardian, Penthouse, The Daily Mail, Empire Magazine, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, i09, Junkee and many more. Previously seen as a presenter on SBS Viceland’s nightly news program The Feed and as the host of Cleverfan on ABC, she has been a journalist for over 13 years. 

CLASSIFICATION: A dark LGBT friendly urban fantasy with horror elements.

FORMAT: The Witch who Courted Death was published by Piatkus in October 2018. It's a stand-alone novel. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 432 pages and is divided into 20 numbered chapters. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Lukasz): It’s been a while since I read a book about witches. Actually, it’s been a while since I read a genuinely fresh urban fantasy and I read in the genre regularly. The Witch who Courted Death by Maria Lewis impressed me on many levels and I don’t understand why so few people read it. It has it all - a relatable, complex characters, interesting supernatural creatures, magic, spells, charms, covens, mayhem, and romance. Plus, contrary to most books in the genre, the story happens in Europe, in Berlin, Riga, and Cornwall.

Corvossier ‘Casper’ von Klitzing, the world’s most powerful medium, and her twin brother Barastin can speak with and control the dead. For unknown reasons a sect called Oct targets them, kills Barastin and maims Casper. She survives, but she looses everyone she’s ever cared for. She wants a revenge, but before she sees justice done, she must find a witch who doesn’t want to be found.

Casper is an impressive gal. Strong, composed, caring, intelligent and resourceful she makes her plans work by using resources at hand. The hunger for revenge drives her but doesn’t consume her. As a self-aware adult who’s been using her powers all her life, she’s already accomplished the quest for self-discovery and teenage angst is way past her. And I love it. Urban fantasy needs more mature protagonists.

Her relationships with Barastin and the remaining cast of characters felt true, and I loved her interactions with ghosts. Lewis impressed me with descriptions of Casper’s journeys on an astral plane. Very imaginative, and fresh.    

Worldbuilding is the second delight of this story. I enjoy urban fantasy for many reasons, mainly because it introduces supernatural elements to our world and doesn’t have to spend a lot of time on establishing geography, mythology and, well, the world. Lewis impressed me with the amount of supernatural knowledge and research she poured into the novel and that allowed her to keep the balance between two worlds: supernatural and the real one. Caspers’ world has a lot of different beings (elementals, werewolves, ghouls, Arachne) and a complex supernatural hierarchy, sets of powers and behaviors. In places it reads almost like an espionage thriller.

I need to give you an example. Have you ever seen stunning etchings of Gustave Doré? If not, you should. He created beautifully haunting engravings to accompany Dante’s Divine comedy, and one of the most impressive presents Arachne’s punishment. We see her partially transformed into a spider. Similar creatures play a significant role in Lewis’ stand-alone. And they’ll give you goose bumps.



The plot, while engaging, has uneven pacing. The story starts strong and develops fast until Casper visits Cornwall. And then things slow down and the story looses momentum. What started as a darker urban fantasy saturated with humor and pop-culture references suddenly devolves into a romance story. The middle part of the book reads almost as a supernatural slice of life fantasy. I didn’t like it. It bored me. 

The romance is convincing; I guess. The thing is, I dislike romance, and when it becomes the focus of otherwise engaging story, I start to complain. Even though more romantic readers will enjoy this arc, they will, probably see (and if not, I’ll tell them) the biggest problem of this novel - it can’t choose what type of story it wants to tell. For me, revenge and “investigation” parts contrast strongly with unfocused, wordy and unexciting stay in Cornwall and blooming romance. 

That said, if you like romance, I expect your reaction to differ from mine. 

The prose, now. Lewis writes well. She likes descriptions and long chapters more than me, but I have no complaints. Her language conveys the story and paints a clear picture. When needed, she mixes humor with horror. She delivers punchy lines, and excellent descriptions of people, magical creatures and their interactions. Also, the dialogue. Natural, nicely flowing, engaging.   

CONCLUSION: Despite minor issues I had with this book, I enjoyed it a lot. It provides a solid, energetic story and well-needed emphasis on women (not teenagers, adult, mature women). With fine characterization and willingness to spill blood so the reader may understand the stakes, it shines amongst a plethora of generic books published in the genre. Also, it’s a stand-alone, self-contained novel with a satisfying, upbeat end. Highly recommended.

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