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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