~ Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.
Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal; he will save her from execution if she can she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.
But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.
Virginia’s Boecker’s debut is set in an an alternate version of the Middle Ages. Witches are known as Reformists, and they are considered evil. Malcolm, who is the king, is weak, ineffective, and corrupt. It is Blackwell, the Inquisitor who is the true power behind the throne. He reminded of Cromwell, and is a master manipulator. While it’s a period piece, the language is more contemporary, which I found a little strange, but not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the story. There’s a lot of world-building, particularly at the beginning, but it never slows down the pace of the story. From the very first page I was absolutely riveted.
Quite a few readers have mentioned their dislike of Elizabeth, but I actually found her a very compelling character. Yes, she’s done some pretty horrible things as a witch hunter, but she and her fellow hunters have been brainwashed by Blackwell. I’m telling you, if you decide to try this book, you will absolutely loathe this man. He takes young orphans such as Elizabeth, and with some truly horrifying training methods, molds them into soldiers who will do whatever he wants. Even when he turns on Elizabeth, all she can think about is clearing her name and getting back in his good graces. Gah! It was very frustrating. She also is pining for her childhood friend and fellow witch hunter Caleb. To my surprise, he’s another character who I felt sympathetic towards. He’s torn between his duty as a hunter and his feelings for Elizabeth. Once Elizabeth gets involved with Nicholas and his followers, things get really interesting. There’s a prophecy which points to Elizabeth as being the one who will turn the tide in favor of the reformists. The problem is none of them know she’s a witch hunter and when they find out, well, things get a little tense. As Elizabeth is accepted into the group of rebels, she begins to see that things aren’t quite as black and white as she’s thought, and she begins to regret some of her actions. One member of the group is a magical healer named John, who becomes Elizabeth’s love interest. The development of their relationship is slow but sweet, and I found the idea of them as a couple quite believable. Despite Elizabeth’s feelings for Caleb at the beginning, there is no love triangle, thank goodness! I’m hoping this continues in the next book, although I wouldn’t mind learning more about Caleb.
Overall, I think The Witch Hunter is an auspicious debut. The characters are fascinating and well-developed. There’s a few loose ends including the mention of a plague that the witches supposedly started, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. The action is fast-paced and the ending is neatly tied up, but it’s obvious there’s going to be another book. There is a reference to rape, but it happens before the story begins, and isn’t graphically depicted. However, because of this and some of the disturbing scenes describing the executions of witches, and the training the hunters go through, I’d probably recommend this for ages 13 and up. Virginia Boecker is definitely an author I’m interested in following.