Protip: If you’re going to be a high-class British woman in the Victorian era, either be a spinster in a loving, wealthy family, marry a guy who you can TOTALLY trust…or be a widow. I learned that important lesson from Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive and Deanna Raybourn’s Silent in the Grave, and Ruth Warburton’s Witch Finder has only served to strengthen my conviction.
Rosamund Greenwood is the only daughter in an upper crust family that is rapidly sliding into poverty, and according to her manipulative, demanding mother and her physically abusive—not to mention coarse, dissolute and utterly uncaring—older brother, the only solution to all of their problems is for her to marry well. Not just to marry well, but to marry specifically: If she marries Sebastian Knyvet, the most wealthy, handsome and powerful young man in London, if not the entire country, the Greenwoods—and their ancestral estate—will be saved. Sebastian, though, is possessive, easily angered and quite capable of brutal violence…not exactly the trifecta of traits one would want in a husband now, and certainly not desirable in an era when a husband has complete control over almost every aspect of his wife’s life.
Luke Lexton, meanwhile, is from another London entirely. He’s an orphan, the nephew of a blacksmith and a recent initiate into the Malleus Maleficorum. In order to finalize his entry into the Brotherhood, he has to complete a challenge or die trying: He has to kill a witch. The name he drew? You guessed it: Rosa Greenwood.
In some ways, Witch Finder is a very standard paranormal historical: Of course Rosa is an extremely beautiful redhead and an extremely powerful witch, of course she and Luke fall in love, of course they both face the threat of death from all sides. There isn’t much in the way of character development—beyond both of them learning the expected lesson about judging others by their social status and/or magical abilities—and there are some inconsistencies in the worldbuilding. (If everyone knows that witches exist, and if witches dominate the upper classes and the government, why are they supposed to keep their powers a secret, exactly?)
But it moves along quite quickly, and there are a few elements that make it stand out in a crowded field. For example:
Luke actually tries to kill Rosa. Not just once, but twice. Granted, both attempts are somewhat ham-handed, but it’s not very often that a love interest actually GOES THROUGH with this sort of thing.
Rosa’s mixed feelings about Sebastian are almost understandable. Warburton deserves credit for writing a character who beats a puppy to death in front of us…and then, in his next appearance, act in a believably solicitous manner towards Rosa. Two-thirds of the way through, he morphs into a two-dimensional black-hearted knave, but for a while there, Rosa’s choice—to pursue or not to pursue—actually feels like a real dilemma.
There is no doubt whatsoever that many readers will have difficulty with Rosa’s situation, with her role in society and with treatment she receives from her brother, from Sebastian and even from her mother…but it’s important to remember that despite the pretty, pretty dresses, more often than not, being a woman in that era wasn’t particularly awesome, and didn’t offer up a whole lot of palatable choices.
The end. Is it clearly the beginning of a series? Yes. But the end is an actual end, not a cliffhanger. So that’s something.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.
Note: Witch Finder has not been published in the U.S.—you can purchase the U.K. version.