Monday, July 3, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Witch Who Came In From the Cold Season 1 by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, & Michael Swanwick

Long Review After the Jump:

The Witch Who Came In From the Cold is another work from Serial Box Publishing (like Bookburners, which I've previously reviewed on this blog) whereby multiple authors combine to write serialized stories.  Each Chapter was released originally as its own separate story and this book is the collection of the first "Season".  The Authors in question btw are Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, & Michael Swanwick.  As a big fan of Max Gladstone, and an enjoyer of Bookburners, I was looking forward to this one.

I've actually read part of a second Serial Box work: Tremontaine, but coudln't finish that story - after reading four chapters, I basically had no interest in the characters or plot of that story, unlike Bookburners. That story also didn't really work like Bookburners in that its individual "episodes" weren't really independent stories in any way (to be fair, Bookburners Season 2 was also somewhat like this).  Given that I'm reading each of these as a collection, that's not necessarily a problem, but it does make these less interesting to read.

The Witch Who Came In From the Cold is closer to Tremontaine in structure - each individual episode is largely dependant upon the myth arc and isn't really independent- but worked a lot better for me.  The story arc is interesting, the two main characters are strong, as are a bunch of the side characters.  I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes in Season 2.  The problem is that part of that is because this season feels very much like a prologue to a larger story than anything.

-------------------------------Plot Summary-----------------------------
The Place is Prague.  The Year is 1970, in the midst of the Cold War. The City is grounds for major Cold War Espionage: with both the KGB and CIA, as well as other major intelligence agencies (MI6) having major presences in the City.  But what is less known is that the City is also the grounds for another conflict: A Conflict between two groups of sorcerors/magic-users: The Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame.

Gabe Pritchard is a CIA Agent who ran into something magical in Cairo he can't really recall.  Since then, he's suffered headaches of a magical nature and that threaten to cause him to fail at his job.  In desperation, he seeks help at controlling this magic inside him, a desperation that will lead him to meeting Tanya Morozova, a sorceress for the Ice.  One Problem:  Tanya is known to a KGB Agent, and he's not sure how much he can trust her or appear to be seen with her given their political associations.  Another problem: While the Flame apparently seeks the destruction of the world and the Ice seeks to stop them, both Gabe and Tanya will soon find out that the Ice isn't some saintly organization either.

Together the two spies, as well as a bar owner who is actually a neutral Sorceress who controls the most valuable magical ground in Prague, will find themselves attempting to stop magical forces that threaten the rest of Prague...and maybe the world.  Oh and they'll also attempt to defeat each other in the game of spycraft they play in their day jobs.

This is a story of great ambition, as we're dealing with secret organizations and spywork on two different levels, in addition to the addition of magic to that spywork. Both Gabe and Tanya are strong characters with strong personalities, and the third real main character Jordan is also solid, as are some of the side characters.

The ambitious nature of the plot and the good characters made it easy for me to tear through this in 3 days, but I wanted to like the story more than I did.  Some of this may be issues caused by multiple authors not quite on the same page, but several plot arcs aren't really resolved satisfactorily and a reveal of two characters as being part of the antagonist group (the Flame) didn't really match up well with what we'd seen from those characters previously.

For example, relatively early on we have both Gabe and Tanya discover that the Ice's motivations and actions in securing some of the elemental power the two sides are fighting about may not be as innocent and purehearted as other Ice characters have made it sound.  This causes them both to have major crises of faith about the Ice! justification is ever given for this and neither character in the end decides to look into the other side.  Meanwhile, we never actually see the Flame do anything evil, we're just told about it.

Similarly, two characters we know from spywork are revealed to be part of the Flame- but the story shifts from various points of view to other ones, and those characters actually being Flame doesn't really match up well with what we'd seen earlier.  Again, I understand trying to keep a reveal in your pocket and not spoiling it with too obvious foreshadowing to a reader, but you also need to make the reveal make sense.

I don't mean to sound too down on this story.  It's a lot of fun, and shows a good amount of promise!  I look forward to reading Season 2 - I see my library has the individual episodes available, so I expect to read it soon.  But well, this is a Spy Story/Thriller with Magic.  As such, it does need to hold together to a certain extent, and the story kind of doesn't.  I'd recommend this if you like these type of stories, but it's not something I'd recommend wholeheartedly unless you really love these type of stories, or unless your library has a copy.  The Collection is for sale right now on kindle for 0.99, so at that price I think it's fine.  But I still wish I could recommend this more.

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