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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
This review is from: Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book (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. It opens like any other run of the mill UF but around halfway through its breadth and originality is revealed: I'd certainly advise to keep going even if the first few chapters seem tough to get through. It took me a while to get into it as well!

The novel is written in third person from the perspective of two characters: Max and Alexander. Max herself was deeply flawed and hard going at times, she's not easily sympathetic. Although, she was also self-sacrificing, tough, honourable and kept to her word. She had a nice sense of humour and was not over the top about it either, thank goodness. I knocked off a star because I did not like Alexander -- he spent the entire novel hero-worshipping Max and was really quite dull. He seemed weak in comparison to Max: it would have been fine if he'd had a stronger personality but he didn't and it caused a slight discomfort in reading his chapters. I also didn't believe in their attraction to one another, it was rather annoying to read and I just wanted to get on with things.

The secondary characters were well written. I particularly liked Oz who was humorous and had a distinctive personality right away (like some characters do), Niko was another one who made an impression, the angel, Giselle and Thor were also among the other characters I loved. I think Thor and Oz were my favourite secondary characters. Because the novel was from Max and Alexander's point of view we didn't get to learn much about the other characters, so I hope they all feature more prominently in the future. I think any future novels would benefit a lot from less of Alexander's viewpoint. He was certainly the weak link in the book. The worldbuilding was original and well done as was the general quality of writing, there was some rich imagery in places -- indeed, I can still easily picture some of the scenes in 'Bitter Night'. Despite the issues with the book, I couldn't put it down and I look eagerly forward to the sequal: Crimson Wind.
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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
This review is from: Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book (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. Both are immortal- well, maybe more like long-lived- and both are created by strong elemental witches to be used as their protection. Think of them as guardians of the witches' coven- day shift and night shift, as one can't survive the sun and the other can't survive the night.

Max, our leading lady, and the Shadowblade Prime, is one of the toughest, if slightly suicidal, characters I've ever encountered. She's also housing a monumental amount of rage and resentment at the start of our story which is interesting to witness and see her work through. There was quite a lot of character growth in this story and more to come, I suspect. The secondary characters were equally vivid, and there's one in particular that makes me want to jump up and down in fan-girl glee. *Clappy hands, clappy hands*

I recommend this for all Urban Fantasy fans. If you like Kate Daniels, Dorina Basarab, Chicagoland Vamps, Elemental Assassin series, this series is a must!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but incomplete, 22 Dec 2009
By 
Helen Hancox "Auntie Helen" (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book (Mass Market Paperback)
'Bitter Night' was exciting and different. Exciting in that the pace was continuous, the action varied and the mayhem and bloodshed all over the place. Different in that it wasn't clear where the plot was going and parts of it felt original. However it wasn't a complete success for this reader, who tends to find witch books with spells tend to mean the author doesn't know what any of the characters are capable of. Oh look, there's an impossible-to-storm fortress... but our witch knows just the spell for that. This book had some aspects of this in that our heroine kept escaping from almost certain doom with the help of spells or some other magical thing, but there was enough good in the book that this annoyance can be overlooked.

Max is a Shadowblade, a woman who serves a witch and has been given extraordinary powers and virtual immortality because of her bond with the witch Giselle; unfortunately Max doesn't want the bond and wants to kill Giselle - if it is possible - to gain her freedom from being under Giselle's power. When on an errand for Giselle she steps in to a strange magical situation and meets the Shadowblade for another witch, a man called Alexander, little knowing that their paths will continue to cross as big things seem to be happening with the witches and even more powerful beings.

As previously mentioned, there's lots of action in this book. There is a real focus on injury and pain which wasn't always comfortable reading. There was also the beginning of a romance which wasn't particularly developed, far more attention being paid to relationships between the witch and her servants.

I was a little disappointed that the book didn't really tie up various plot lines by the end. It read very much as the first instalment of a series and I found that the book didn't feel particularly complete to me. However it was a good read which should appeal to those who like action-packed paranormal stories.

Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book © Helen Hancox 2009
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great start to a new series, 20 Jan 2013
By 
Sandy S. (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book (Mass Market Paperback)
BITTER NIGHT (Horngate Witches #1) by Diana Pharaoh Francis

Book Blurb: SOMETIMES YOU CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES. AND SOMETIMES, THEY CHOOSE YOU...

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....

REVIEW

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. Following a night of mid-exam drinking, Max finds herself on a witch's altar and her life as she once knew it will never be the same. And thirty years later, Max is still fighting the urge to kill her best friend.

Diana Francis has written a world of Urban Fantasy characters that will both tug at your heart and rev up your anxiety level- a world of Shadowblades (the sun will kill them) and Sunspears (the darkness will kill them) each of whom is responsible for the protection of an elemental witch and his/her coven. But it just so happens that Max is the Prime Shadowblade and as the Prime it is her primary responsibility to protect her witch at all costs-even when she wants nothing to do but destroy the very life she has been compulsed to protect. An interesting conundrum for one of the most powerful and special Shadowblades the world of the magic and the Divine has ever seen.

The premise follows that the Guardians (a most powerful and omnipotent power) are angry at the world and want revenge against the humans who have forced `magic' into hiding. Along the way, the Guardians have chosen to enlist the witches in their attempt but their refusal to help has started a war with the Divine and between each other. And there is only one person who holds the key and has the ability to stop the destruction-Max.

There is also a `building' of a romance between Max and another Prime, but this Prime has had some difficulty with his witch and must pay the ultimate price for his betrayal in refusing to divulge what he knows. Like all Urban Fantasy storylines, the romance is virtually non-existent even though I had hoped knowing it would never come to fruition. Alexander and Max know that one day `it' will happen between them, but first, the world must be saved, the Guardians must be stopped and a witch with vengeance on her mind is standing between Max and everyone else. I want romance but sadly UF is not about the romance.

There are several secondary storyline characters-witches, angels, Shadowblades and Sunspears-each with a different story to tell. Maybe one day Diana will have the time to develop a storyline (novella or two) to tell their side of the story.

BITTER NIGHT is a well-written, fast paced and fascinating storyline that kept me reading right up until the very end. There are some dark moments, especially when we learn what Max had to endure at the hands of her one-time friend. Max is a tough as nails heroine whose life has forever been changed by betrayal but when the need arises, she has a heart that will break and will cry tears of pain and loss. She is both surprised and humbled with the knowledge that not every Prime is as well respected and as loved as is she. I look forward to reading more from Diana Francis and the Horngate Witches.

Reading Order:

1. Bitter Night
2. Crimson Wind
3. Shadow City
4. Blood Winter -Dec 2012
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Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book
Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches Book by Diana Pharaoh Francis (Mass Market Paperback - 27 Oct 2009)
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