ARC REVIEW: Grave Witch

Kalayna Price
Grave Witch (Alex Craft #1)
ISBN-10: 0451463803
ISBN-13: 978-0451463807
Urban Fantasy
October 5, 2010

Blurb via Goodreads:

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around…

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life…and her soul.

*minor spoilers about a section I took issue with; will label that area of review as spoiler…

This is one that was marginally on my reading radar thanks to seeing the cover pimped out at several blogs and various sites. It really screams as a member of the urban fantasy genre and even though we have other wonderful witch heroines I was excited that we’d be getting another one to weigh and measure. Because the genre is rife with vampires and shifters and were creatures and demons of all kinds and so I thought Grave Witch might really have something to offer me. Did it? The answer is both yes and no.

Grave Witch starts off pretty well, and managed to intrigue me right off the bat. Alex Craft is a grave witch, a type of witchcraft that enables her to raise shades, which are memories of the person that used to be alive. She can interact with them enough, usually, to at least get an idea of whatever it is her clients want to find out from the shades. It’s not a magic without consequences, and Alex usually has to sacrifice her sight for a few hours after each shade raising. It’s really the only kind of magic she does well, and it’s all that keeps food on the table for her. Unfortunately, business hasn’t been so good lately, and Alex is always hurting for money and food as a result.

Craft is an assumed name for Alex, being estranged from her family. She chose to change it to get away from that scenario as well as to represent what she is. Her father abhors her talents as a witch and pretty much disowned her as a result, and she’s not on the best of terms with her sister, Casey, either. Alex does have a few good friends, though, and one is a detective with the local police. John asks Alex for a favor – raise a shade for him that’s involved in a high-stakes murder case. Being that she knows him and his family so well (she frequently visits with him and his wife for dinner at their house), she decides to do the case pro bono, only to get in way over her head. From the moment she raises the strange, shrieking shade, Alex’s life is forever changed. Suddenly she’s got fae coming after her and attempts on her life are becoming common.

I enjoyed the style of this urban fantasy well enough, but I have to be honest right off the bat – by the end of the book, overall, I wasn’t really blown away. Grave Witch is neither the best not the worst urban fantasy I’ve ever read, pretty much middle of the road really. It does, however, have the ever hopeful potential. I kept waiting for Alex to be imbued with something extra, some trait that would make her stand out from the crown of urban fantasy heroines. In a genre where most main protagonists seem to be women, this has become rather important to me as a reader. I’m not sure, though, that Alex ever displayed such a trait, whatever it might be. As a result, while I liked her well enough, she never really came to quite steer the story. Even though she’s another first person narrator, it really felt as if she was merely in the story as opposed to the one causing everything to happen. I kept hoping something, anything, would just pop right off the pages about her, but I didn’t see it.

That being said, she is in over her head a bit with this mysterious case she begins helping her detective friend with. And she makes some interesting discoveries about herself, her family and the enigmatic Detective Falin Andrews. I think, perhaps, though, that book’s strongest trait was its premise. I really liked the storyline, but even it needed some oomph. A little more depth to the worldbuilding would have gone a long way. As is, we know it’s the kind of UF world where everyone knows there’s magic. There’s fae and witches, but that’s about it. There’s no real deep detail to any of it, although there’s a scene or two that invokes some interesting imagery of the author’s world well enough. One such scene was one of those “pocket” areas of faery that Alex and some others step through a bar to get to, and they’re gone for three days after what felt like only hours in the bar. But I know this is the first in a new series, so perhaps that can account for all the questions I had, and the lack of some details, both in world building and character development. It was as if the entire book rested on the cusp of pushing over into a really, truly great and entertaining story, as opposed to resting comfortably at OK.

As is, the series has potential, and if we could just get a little more depth to just about every aspect. Like why are there fae in this story? What is their history? And what about the witch community? There IS a pretty interesting twist to Alex’s lineage, and I think this is where a lot of the improvements needed could unfurl from in the next book or maybe even further down the series line. But let’s hope for book two.

Characters of note, besides Alex: One was only known as Death, a typical yet not-so-typical grim reaper type that Alex can see and talk to. He’s apparently quite handsome, and he’s always doing special favors for Alex that seem too convenient. Kind of deux ex machina convenient. At the same time, he forms one side of a love triangle, and genuinely seems to care for Alex. As is in this installment, we really don’t get much detail on him. We do find out a couple of things, but there’s no way to know how important they are or what they’ll mean until the series progresses further.

There’s a ghost named Roy that comes into play early in the book, when Alex is at the morgue raising the shade for John. Roy continues to, in a way, haunt Alex as the story unfolds. I kind of liked him, and it was interesting how much easier it became for Alex and Roy to intereact, due to the nature of her grave magic, something even Alex seemed surprised at.

Detective Falin Andrews is also underdeveloped since we’re only getting Alex’s impressions of him, but out of all the other characters, he may be the best developed, aside from Alex. We do get to find out some valuable information about him. There’s plenty of times where he helps Alex, but didn’t necessarily have to. Does he do it out of the goodness of his heart? Because he’s coming to care for Alex? Or does he have some kind of sooper seekrit ulterior motive? So far, from what I’ve read of this series, I say ulterior motive. And since we’re on the subject of Falin, it’s time to talk about his side of the love triangle.

This is where the spoilers come in… And come to think of it, it’s not so much a love triangle we’ve got going on. Maybe a lust triangle? It’s hard to say at this point when the characters involved aren’t really deep enough to examine intimate feelings. Due to her using grave magic, and that bone-deep chill that Alex can’t shake, she needs pretty much skin-to-skin contact in order to regain her own safe body temperature. So the reader is prepared way before this in the book that, hey, the heroine has hooked up with many a stranger at bars in order to do so. I really didn’t have a problem with this, not until Falin enters the picture. So we have a reason for intimacy with Alex’s magic side effects, but I almost wish things hadn’t happened between her and Falin as they did. It made their barely budding relationship take a decidedly tepid turn. Even Alex doesn’t completely want to be with Falin, but she needs to be for entirely non-romantic and life-saving reasons. I dunno, this came across as very disappointing to me, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this aspect of the book felt forced. As if it would’ve been better had they found an alternate way to bring Alex’s body temperature back up. As is, it does ratchet up the tension between the pair, but, again, from then on, it felt forced and not at all organic to the storyline. The obvious and easier solution was taken, whereas a little more creativity would’ve helped. End spoilers.

For all the issues I saw with the book, I did find it very readable. But it’s not asking a lot of readers at this point without the depth that would make this all a much more emotionally engaging story and set of characters. All the building blocks are there, they just need a fully realized interior. The author’s voice, I’m glad to say, is unique and I think with improvements and expansions in further books, the Alex Craft series could really take off. The writing itself was great, so the potential is only that much more there. Grave Witch does have moments here and there that show me this potential. One such scene was at the very end of the book. After all Alex goes through to solve the case she began helping her friend John with, there’s a moment with her closest friends. They’re so relieved to see her safe and it is truly a smile-inducing, tender moment that assured me that Alex is not alone, that she is loved. And I think if the book had been able to permeate every aspect as that one scene did the end of the book (in effect saving the book for me and giving me that urge to move on to the second), Grave Witch would have been a one hundred percent winner for me.

Rating: Three Scoops

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  1. I have this on my wishlist as it sounds pretty good. If find that’s how it goes sometimes – books being middle of the road – well, for me most of the time actually. It takes a lot for me to be blown away by a book, but on the other hand it really does have to be bad for me to hate it, so most sit in the middle. This one sounds intriguing enough, let’s hope the second book brings in some of the sparkle that’s missing for you in this one :)

    • Oooh, sparkle, that’s what was missing lol. Yes! Hoping for that sparkle in book two. And I agree on it having to be very bad to hate it. This is nowhere near bad, thank goodness. ;)

  2. I’ve been seeing this all over the place recently but wasn’t sure it was for me. Hmm. I still feel mixed over if I want to try it.

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