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Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book [Mass Market Paperback]

Diana Pharaoh Francis
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; Original edition (27 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416598146
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416598145
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 10.3 x 16.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 538,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Witches of Horngate 5 Dec 2009
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Max once dreamed of having a career, a home, a loving family. Now all she wants is her freedom and revenge on the witch named Giselle who transformed her into a warrior with extraordinary strength and endurance. Max is bound by magic to serve as Giselle's personal weapon: a Shadowblade. Shadowblades receive their power from the night and have to avoid the harmful power of day as a result. There are also Sunspears who draw their power from the light. These superhuman warriors are compelled to serve and protect their witch by any means possible: specifically, a series of compulsion spells to ensure their strict loyalty -- which would also quickly destroy them if they attempted to disobey their witch.

We follow Max as she discovers that the ancient Guardians of the earth (Gods, whom the witches serve) are preparing to unleash widespread destruction on the mortal world. The problem is, they want the witches help -- if the witches refuse, their covensteads will be destroyed; the very place the witches and their Sunspears and Shadowblades call home. This includes Horngate, Max's covens home. Max realises she'll have to choose between staying with a witch she despises in order to save Horngate, or stand against Giselle like she's always wanted to. 'Bitter Night' was very enjoyable. I read it quickly and felt completely immersed in Max's world. The author did a nice job of explaining what Sunspears and Shadowblades were along with what weakens them, so they're not running around like superhuman types -- they had weaknesses. I liked that as the book went on I was more able to understand the importance of Horngate to Max, and why it was so important for her to save it. Diana Pharaoh Francis is a fantasy writer so this novel acheives a unique depth and scope not often found in Urban Fantasy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An oustanding first book in a series 2 July 2011
By The Demon Librarian TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What an outstanding start to a series. There have not been many books that I have read that have left me with a look of pure, stupefied awe on my face over its sheer awesomeness. But this is definitely one of them. I've actually just finished reading it for the second time and thought I'd come back and add to my review since first time around I could only manage a few lines of small words due to the whole stupefaction thing.

So what was so good about it? Well, first of all let me let you into my personal list of must-haves for any book to be deemed a "favourite": Action, fast pacing, a grin-worthy hint of romance, humour, a high magic/fantasy content, and I'm also a sucker for a kick-ass chick and/or a bad-ass dude. Someone I can cheer on and really root for and go "Yeah! Smash his face in!" (Because I'm a little vicious like that). And this book just had it all. In abundance.

It was deliciously easy to read as well. Written in third person, although Max is the main character you get nearly as much time in the head of one of the other characters which provides a great balance giving you an almost panoramic view of events. Francis handles these changes with aplomb. When Max is doing something that you'd probably be better watching than experiencing first hand (and believe me, Max does some pretty wince inducing stuff), you swap to the other POV. It was fantastic in that sense.

The other thing that bowled me over was its unique characters and never before seen supernatural beings. Francis is/has been a fantasy writer prior to this series, and it shows here in her refusal to go down the typical vampire/werewolf/shapeshifter route. Instead, she brings us something fresh and new to sink our eager little fangs into. Shadowblades and Sunspears.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great start to a new series 20 Jan 2013
Format:Mass Market Paperback
BITTER NIGHT (Horngate Witches #1) by Diana Pharaoh Francis


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....


Where do I begin! There is so much information compiled into this first Horngate Witch storyline and yet as a reader I did not feel overwhelmed. The storyline is written in third person POV from our heroine's perspective. We are privy to Max's emotional highs and lows including her feelings of betrayal at the hands of her one time best friend and college roommate.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  58 reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bitter Night has its bitter moments, but strong world building and a strong and selfless heroine make it worth reading 9 Nov 2009
By AJ - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Like my favorite urban fantasy author Patricia Briggs (who just happened to have blurbed for this book), Diana Pharaoh Francis has a background as an established fantasy writer, and that background is certainly evident in Bitter Night.

"Max's phone rang. It was set to a high-pitched tone that most humans couldn't hear. But being human hadn't been Max's problem since 1979." -Bitter Night

First up, the good: Diana's fantasy background was a strength that she fully utilized in created the world of the Horngate Witches. Witches hold amazing power in Bitter Night. Shadowblades and Sunspears are human servants magically enhanced with superhuman abilities and senses. They are not that dissimilar from vampires: they can heal from most wounds, never grow old, and the sun (or moon depending on whether they are Sunspears or Shadowblades) is deadly to them. They even struggle with enlarged appetites (try 40 Big Macs at once).

Max (she adopted the name from the Mel Gibson character in The Road Warrior movies, though I think she is much more like Riggs from Lethal Weapon) is the Prime Shadowblade for the witch Giselle. Enslaved by the witch that made her, compelled to lay down her very life if necessary in order to keep Giselle safe, Max is not the grateful servant she's expected to be. Rather she is consumed with one thought: Revenge. It is the one hope that keeps her from walking out in to the sunlight that would kill her. When forces greater than even the witches threaten everything that Max has come to care about, she must learn to ally with her enemy and accept the role she must play as savior.

The cover art is what first attracted me to this book. And I love that Max is actually described like the cover depicts her. She even wears the cover outfit during a pivotal scene in the book. In that scene Max is forced into a test of endurance against another witch's Prime Shadowblade, Alexander (who I think deserved a spot on the cover as a significant number of chapters are written from his point of view).

The not-so good: Diana's fantasy background is both her strength and her weakness. The fantasy Horngate world is well realized with its own unique mythology (especially her take on Angels), the urban elements, however, are less so. There is very little interaction with the modern (outside) world, and while the characters all have cell phones and drive cars etc., apart from those details, this story could easily have been set a millennium ago with minor changes. I'm not sure if those small additions will be enough for hardcore urban fantasy lovers.

I'll also admit that it took me until about the midpoint to really get into this book. Max is a hard character and the circumstances of her life have made her very bitter (hence the title). At first, I struggled to see past that aspect of her. I understood her to a degree, I just didn't especially like her. That changed when she risked her life for Alexander not knowing if he would turn around and kill her later. Her loyalty to the Shadowblades in her command was also a contributing factor. She consistently put their welfare over her own need for revenge. It's hard not to admire that kind of selflessness.

I never really did warm up to Alexander. He didn't seem strong enough to be a realistic romantic lead for Max (the Angel on the other hand...). Nor did I ever believe the conflicting desire they supposedly felt for each other went beyond plain lust. Overall, I found his chapters to be the weakest in the book.

Bitter Night has its bitter moments, but strong world building and a heroine who proves herself by bravery and resourcefulness, even willingness to suffer in the stead of others make it worth reading. There is no cliffhanger ending, but Diana is far from finished with her Horngate Witches...and neither am I.

Sexual Content: Kissing.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly good for a book 1 in a new series 8 Nov 2009
By Debbie's World of Books - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Reading the first chapter or two I had my doubts about this book but about 50 pages in and I was hooked. The cast of characters was wonderful and I can't think of a single one I did not like. Even the villains played their roles brilliantly so you can't help but appreciate the way they were developed. Max is a warrior with a chip on her shoulder that you sometimes wonder if she will cut off her nose to spite her face and yet you cannot help but feel sympathy for her role in life. Eventually though you also begin to see Giselle's point of view and why she did what she did. Does that make you like her more as a person? I don't know but at least you can understand her. Giselle and Max have a complex relationship that I can't wait to see how it develops in the next book. As for Alexander, he is your typical hot and sexy guy that Max feels instant chemistry with. He did not grab me as much as Max or some of the other characters in the book but he was still enjoyable.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book for being book 1 in a series. Usually I find the first book in series somewhat boring as there is a lot of set up and character building going on. So I was gladly surprised by this book. The only draw backs for me were a few times where things were just too unbelievable. For someone who was supposed to be a great warrior I was not impressed at some points with Alexander's warrior prowess, I also found it hard to believe at one point that they would linger and take a shower while in an enemy's stronghold, etc. Things like that bugged me but overall a wonderful book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EFFIN'-A, THAT WAS AWESOME! 28 Feb 2011
By A. McKinnon - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
NO SPOILERS or plot summaries.

HIGH LEVEL: YES! Just that. YES! Yes, you should read this. Yes, you will like it. It was a seriously great read. Fast paced, high stakes, rich magical world with vivid, down to earth characters. I honestly wasn't sure after reading the first couple pages, but a few more pages in and I was HOOKED.

MYTHOS & STYLE: This is more of an Urban Fantasy than a romance, though there is a stronger element of romance than in many UFs. It was something of a blend of the two- a well-crafted blend. The magical world was cleverly written and diverse, ranging from witches to angels to hags. This could be considered a unique take on vampires- the Shadowblades and Sunspears. It was all very clever. Story is told from two perspectives- the female and male leads, which is interesting specifically because it isn't a true para-romance. It worked VERY well. The violence was fast and bloody and devastating. Not a faint hearted book.

CHARACTERS: Max, our heroine, is a strong lead. She makes a great central character- she has depth and flaws and enough anger to boil the words off the page. I felt her struggles from page one until the back cover. The supporting characters were all vibrant and full. Each of them sympathetic in their own way making up a great "band of brothers" type team. The "bad guys" were a little too stereotypical and lacked the same depth that the others had. Alexander, who was the male lead, was perhaps an even BETTER character than Max. He was something of a tragic hero- his 100+ year lifespan was very clear in how he was written. His loyalty, his strength, his struggles- wow. It was a real treat to watch Max & Alexander cautiously dance around each other.

BOTTOM LINE: I just loved this book and I could just go on and on about why. I couldn't put it down and I had no idea what to expect when I picked it up, so I'm sure I missed an appointment or two.

1. Ilona Andrew's gritty, post-apocalyptic magic vs technology world: Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1)
2. Karen Chance's two highly energetic, very sexy vamp series Touch the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, Book 1) and the related series (start reading Cassandra's series first) Midnight's Daughter (Dorina Basarab, Dhampir, Book 1)
3. Jocelyn Drake's vampire/were/demon centric series full of grit: Nightwalker (Dark Days, Book 1)
4. Jennifer Estep's stone-magic wielding, hard, cold, vicious assassin Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin, Book 1)
5. Jeaniene Frost's vamp mystery packed with action Halfway to the Grave (Night Huntress, Book 1)
6. Chloe Neill's spunky vampire themed Some Girls Bite (Chicagoland Vampires, Book 1)
7. Marjorie Liu's cold and murky, though somewhat abstract series of inherited heroism The Iron Hunt (Hunter Kiss, Book 1)
8. Lilith Saintcrow's two series, dark & gritty Night Shift (Jill Kismet, Hunter, Book 1) and Working for the Devil (Dante Valentine, Book 1)
9. Nalini Singh's creative use of angels and vampires in Angels' Blood (Guild Hunter)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Left a Bitter Taste in my Mouth 5 Jun 2011
By S. Thomas - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've been going through good book withdrawal lately, especially good urban fantasy books. So, armed with a truckload of good reviews and an interesting premise, I decided to give "Bitter Night" a try. Its success was marginal at best.

Max is a trained assassin. In fact, she is the head of an elite group of warriors called Shadowblades, who serve and protect powerful witches. She was tricked into service and is bitter and resentful about the whole thing. While out on a mission, she meets a rival blade, Alex who captures her interest. Her and Alex must band together (along with her other blades and even enemies) to neutralize the "Big Bad" that is coming their way.

Max started out strong as a character. I understood her resentment and felt her rage. But somewhere in the middle, she lost me. I found her actions to be reckless, childish and stupid. She constantly made the same types of mistakes. She would do things that a well-trained, effective, competent team leader would not. Part of me thought that Max had a death wish, but suicidal tendencies are not something that I look for in a heroine. The only saving grace for her was Alex.

Alex is a rival blade who has been around over 100 years. He has seen it all. Alex has been betrayed and abandoned by his witch and his band of Shadowblades before he hooks up with Max and her crew. I liked Alex. He was smart, capable and effective. The wild, recklessness that was ever present with Max, wasn't there with him. I respected this character in ways that I couldn't respect Max.

I won't bore you with a regurgitation of the mythology involved in this story. It wasn't that inspiring. It managed to be boring and somewhat confusing all at the same time. Character development and plot are the most important elements in a book. While the mythology bored me, the author did a great job of sucking me into the characters that inhabit this world of Shadowblades and witches. I understood most of their motivations and reasoning. The biggest problem with the book was her heroine, Max.

Great urban fantasy transports the reader into a dark and gritty world where the heroes fight the good fight against overwhelming odds and huge obstacles. The characters aren't perfect, but they have the intelligence and grit to make the reader respect and like them. "Bitter Night" had several characters that I could plug into. Unfortunately, Max wasn't really one of them.

"Bitter Night" had just enough qualities to make it an okay read. The verdict is still out on whether the series will turn into something special.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast paced 15 Jan 2010
By D. Salvagin La Deetda Reads - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Following Max's action adventure was like being on a roller coaster. Sometimes it was a lull and other times you were screaming. World building took up quite a bit of this book, and that is to be expected in a first in a series. I had problems with the amount of physical trauma Max endured and still kept going. She really is paranormal. Alexander needs to kick it up a notch if he wants us to regard him as a worthy love interest. I did love OZ (give us more OZ) and Magpie (any woman who can cook and see the future is okay by me). The head witches were for the most part annoying. The angels were really interesting but who the heck is Scooter and what was he doing there? In spite of all the negs I enjoyed this book. I had to keep reading to find out what happened. I will read the next when it is published.
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