Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review – “Bitter Night” by Diana Pharaoh Francis

From the Book Cover:
Once, Max dreamed of a career, a home, a loving family. Now all she wants is freedom...and revenge. A witch named Giselle transformed Max into a warrior with extraordinary strength, speed, and endurance. Bound by spellcraft, Max has no choice but to fight as Giselle's personal magic weapon — a Shadowblade — and she's lethally good at it. But her skills are about to be put to the test as they never have before....

The ancient Guardians of the earth are preparing to unleash widespread destruction on the mortal world, and they want the witches to help them. If the witches refuse, their covens will be destroyed, including Horngate, the place Max has grudgingly come to think of as home. Max thinks she can find a way to help Horngate stand against the Guardians, but doing so will mean forging dangerous alliances — including one with a rival witch's Shadowblade, who is as drawn to Max as she is to him — and standing with the witch she despises. Max will have to choose between the old life she still dreams of and the warrior she has become, and take her place on the side of right — if she survives long enough to figure out which side that is....
Bitter Night is the first book in a new urban fantasy series by seasoned fantasy writer Diana Pharaoh Francis called The Horngate Witches. The scope of Bitter Night is both intimate and epic – intimate because amidst all the high-energy action we get to know Max at a very personal level, her origins, her fears and her hopes and desires. Max is a complex character. Yes she has much of the kick-ass vibe that you expect from urban fantasy heroines but Max also finds solutions to problems without resorting to physical confrontation. And Bitter Night is epic in that mythic and supernatural forces have awakened in the world that are determined to bring about an apocalypse.

I loved the world-building in Bitter Night. Awareness of supernaturals remains hidden from normal humanity. Covensteads are magical communities controlled by groups of witches and protected by two groups, Sunspears and Shadowblades. The men and women that make up these warrior groups have been magically forged; the Sunspears, guarding by day and weakened by darkness and the Shadowblades, protecting at night and weakened by sunlight, even that reflected by the moon. Max is a Prime and leads the Shadowblade contingent for Horngate.

Max’s character evolves and transforms considerably over the course of events in Bitter Night. She is forced to overcome long-held hatreds, embrace unsought friendships, acknowledge unsuspected loyalties and emerge from her protective emotional shell. The alliance and burgeoning relationship with a rival witches Prime introduces the spark that sets many of these changes in motion and adds the promise of further change to come.

The witch Giselle, Max’s master and maker, is also a complicated character. Even though she is the object of Max’s hatred, she also had nuances and layers that I quite enjoyed. Despite the seemingly horrific methods she employs, Giselle’s agenda and motivations are altruistic and her love and concern for the welfare of the covenstead is evident. This internal conflict between these two principals creates an interesting and intriguing dynamic in the story.

There are no dull moments or slack pacing in Bitter Night which includes a wonderful variety of action moments including scenes of magical torture, hand-to-hand combat with redcaps, the rescue of a Hag, and the battle of angels. There are also moments of quiet reflection, betrayal and emotional connection.

Bitter Night pushed all the right urban fantasy buttons for me - strongly crafted world-building, with exciting non-stop action and with main and supporting characters that are vivid and varied. Bitter Night concludes on a satisfying note leaving me eager to discover what comes next for Max and the Horngate community and the world at large. There is no cliff-hanger, but the stage is set for big and momentous events to come.

Author and Book Showcase

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1.

Simon and Schuster/Pocket
ISBN #: 9781416598145
Published: October 2009
Format: Paperback (ARC)
Pages: 387

The Horngate Witches
  1. Bitter Night (2009)
The Crosspointe Chronicles Series:
  1. The Cipher (2007)
  2. The Black Ship (2008)
  3. The Turning Tide (2009)
  4. The Hollow Crown (June 2010)
 The Path Series:
  1. Path of Fate (2003)
  2. Path of Honor (2004)
  3. Path of Blood (2006)


  1. I read another good review on Bitter Night over at Book Love Affair. Definitely sounds like something I should pick up! Thanks for your review! :)

  2. Doug,

    Great review. I am absolutely looking forward to this one. :)


  3. Awesome review, Doug! I definitely can't wait to read Bitter Night, it sounds really good. :)

  4. You sold me on this one as well. Will definitely check it out.

  5. This one sounds like it's right down my reading alley. Multi-layered and fast paced. Love your review, thanks!

  6. Thanks Lily I'll check it out!

    Michelle it is an action-packed read with some great new characters.

    Wendy I really enjoyed this one. I think Max and Alex are going to be popular like Cat and Bones.

    Jory it is a strong opening from Diana, but I didn't expect anything less because her Crosspointe series is strong like that too.

    Thanks Donna. Yes multi-layered is a good description. Lots happening, great character development and a number of interesting story arcs.

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