Are witches becoming popular again?

Cover of "The Worst Witch (Young Puffin S...

Cover via Amazon

Okay, this is probably going to be at odds with other articles you will see around the web but a couple of days ago, I came across a Guardian article talking about witchcraft and witches returning to popular culture in the wake of the Vampires and Werewolves trend. You can read it for yourself here.

The article mentions that various US television networks are starting to show different shows with witch protagonists, suggesting that this is the place that the trend is showing the strongest.

The only thing I took from it originally (it was late at night when I first read it) was the fact that Jill Murphy had published a new Worst Witch book. Not really surprising since she has released new books in the series recently however I did not recognise any of the other books or authors mentioned.

Today, I went to my local Waterstones and as I was browsing and picking up a book (or four!), I found myself unconsciously looking for books about witches. The result? I saw nothing to vindicate The Guardian’s article. I realise it is probably a trend that is just starting to find its feet but if there is a rising interest in books and other media about witches, why can’t I seem to see or find media about witches? Even in HMV, when looking, I couldn’t find anything about witches, not even on the shelves they had set aside for Halloween.

This evening, I returned to the article in question and re-read it. The result was the same. I decided to do some digging and had a look at the Waterstones and WH Smith websites in their best sellers generic listings and the best sellers for fantasy. Nothing.

The only patterns I could find was that vampire books are still popular and other authors, who had always been popular, like Terry Pratchett and Ben Aaronovitch, were still up there in the best sellers lists. A look on Orbit UK, Puffin and Gollancz future publishing schedules show none of this supposed trend. All I found was the tail end of the vampires craze and new books from established authors and series. (This is generalised I hasten to stress!)

So it has got me thinking about whether witches are becoming popular again or if, actually, witches (and wizards) had always been popular in their own way and had never really gone away?

I feel it is a valid question to ask.

A very brief survey of some of my friends from NaNoWriMo (just over 24 hours away!)  revealed that they thought that has been a small rise in popularity but it could easily be an offshoot to the vampires craze. Also, confirming what I suspected, was the fact that paranormal creatures and beings had never really gone out of style. It’s just that the focus of attention shifts.

Cover of "Harry Potter and the Philosophe...

Cover of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

The article mentions Charmed from the late 1990’s and that got me thinking about the fact that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in 1997, during the same time period. The Harry Potter series has gone from strength to strength and continued being popular long after the end of witches popularity. The series has been so popular it has spawned spin-off books, a film series, a theme park and many other types of merchandise and not least of all, the recent news of JK Rowling wanting to return to the world of Potter and start writing a new spin-off series.

In the adults market, Ben Aaronovitch has gained success with his Peter Grant novels, featuring a London police officer and the country’s only remaining wizard. As well as them, there has also been Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels. These are just two series that I read that feature wizards and witches (though in Jacka’s books, they are known as mages).

Then there are the popular Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher, the only wizard in the phone book. These books are on my to read list and Butcher has recently released a new book in the series.

So books about witches and wizards have always been popular, bubbling away beneath the hubbub of the vampire’s (and werewolves) craze. They sell and create series. Jacka has talked about this in his most recent blog post. He is talking about urban fantasy books in general but his comments are correct: “For every Sookie Stackhouse or Dresden Files, there are twenty or thirty urban fantasy series that fizzle out” (Jacka, Benedict. (2013). Alex Verus: The Future (Continued). [Online]. Available at http://benedictjacka.co.uk/2013/10/25/alex-verus-the-future-continued/).

So maybe witches are not becoming popular again as suggested in the Guardian article but instead the spotlight and attention is being shifted to a new type of character within the fantasy genre. Whilst talking with my friends about this, I had the thought that perhaps that maybe the reason I had not seen much in the way of different media having prominent witch characters is that perhaps we are just on the cusp of a new craze. I put this theory to them and they agreed that perhaps, that is the case.

I think that is my theory then. We are on the cusp of a new craze, a craze that is just starting to spread its wings. The interest in these types of books and stories have always been there but it’s now going to experience a new resurgence and people are just beginning to notice.

Or perhaps, it’s just something that is going to fizzle out to nothing.

 

Book Review: Chosen by Benedict Jacka

Yes! I have finally finished reading it! Sorry for the delay!

Alex Verus is back. He’s been having a peaceful time following his last adventure but that is broken when he finds himself being hunted by a group of Adepts. Their leader wants revenge on Alex for something that happened in his past when he was apprenticed to his dark master, Richard. He is also helping a Council Keeper (magical police officer if you will) who is following up rumours that Richard has returned. Forced to face up and delve into his past to solve both problems, Alex finds himself questioning his path in life and where his path will lead in the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is written with the same humour and style as previous books but features a much darker story and darker, more adult themes. Even so, it was fascinating exploring Alex’s background, revealing more and new information about how things had been during his apprenticeship and particularly seeing how his fellow apprentices ended up joining up with Richard and their lives before their apprenticeships. It also allowed the reader to sympathise and maybe starting to like a character who might not have before deserved sympathy.

It was also enjoyable to see the darker side of the Alex character and seeing how dark he could be. It also leaves the reader stepping back and wondering just how cold and how vicious Verus could possibly get. The colder side of him was very enjoyable and I loved reading that side of him. I would like to see that side perhaps come out a bit more and certainly leaves me wanting to read more of his adventures. Maybe it’s because I don’t usually come across such dark characters and they are so unusual in modern fiction. Alex is an anti-hero and that’s what makes the character so fascinating I think. Or maybe I need to start reading wider.

The end of the book leaves the reader on a cliffhanger, unlike the other books which had most of their narratives all tied up neatly at the end and creating a nice ending. Maybe this is indicative that Jacka and his publishers have gained confidence in the series, allowing him to have the cliffhanger ending, trusting that there is a big enough and loyal enough fan base to sustain this fantastic series. There is potential after all that this series could be the one that older Skulduggery Pleasant fans will move to reading, after the ending of that series next year.

The only criticism I really have is that the last chapter seems to be acting as a somewhat drawn out epilogue. It is certainly required and there is nothing wrong with the chapter. I just think I might be being a little picky.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I think it might just be my favourite of the series. The darker, more adult story in this one is very well written, shocking and fascinating in equal measure. The character got darker and asked what happens when your past comes back to haunt and kill you. I really would recommend this book to people looking for an adult fantasy series to enjoy and to the older (16+) Skulduggery Pleasant fans.

 

Blog Post Drought

Okay, so there might be a blog post drought whilst I focus on recovering from a knee dislocation.

I am reading Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men and waiting for my copy of Chosen by Benedict Jacka to arrive at my local Waterstones so I will have stuff to post about in the future just not this week (except this one naturally!)

For now though, I am just relaxing, hobbling about on crutches and hoping I will be walking at least a little bit in time for the Wakefield Lit Fest (21st-30th September, 2013) and in a state to be getting on a stage to accept my degree at graduation in October.

Wish me luck!

Book Review: Taken by Benedict Jacka

I finished this book Monday and was intending to get the review up then but that didn’t happen due to life.

Taken is the third book in the Alex Verus series and this one sees him plunged yet again into danger with his new apprentice, Luna.

Apprentices are going missing. Just disappearing into thin air. The Light Council have no idea what is going on so call upon Alex to investigate. At every turn, Alex seems to be pointed towards Fountain Reach, where the White Stone Tournament (a duelling competition between apprentices) is being held. Alex is forced to think on his feet as he has to protect himself, his apprentice and others as he investigates and this time, he might not be so lucky to get out unharmed…

In the review for Cursed, I commented that Jacka had seem to recycle the format of the first book and I expressed fears that this would be repeated in book 3. These fears were unfounded though as the format is well and truly broken. No Elsewhere, much less of the alliances and more focus on Alex and his skills and use of his divination magic and wit to get through battles. I didn’t speak of this in the last review, though it did feature briefly in another way, but Alex had to use his brain to get past the fact that his magic is being blocked to a certain point in this book.

All of this made me smile and happy that Jacka had gone off in a different direction when plotting and structuring this novel.

This book seemed darker to me compared to the earlier ones and more danger and threat was included but this made the book more enjoyable to me. Again, Jacka has expanded his world and showed more of it which I feel he is very clever in doing and I read his books as a writer of fantasy myself and learn from them.

The fight scenes are better than in Chosen I feel, more active and the type that was seen in Fated, the first book. Alex and Luna are forced to fight in unique ways against enemies who are able to use more offensive magic against them but this makes the battles more interesting and draws the reader in further.

I have only two criticisms for this book. The first is the fact that I worked out who and had an inkling of why the antagonist was doing what they were doing before Alex figured it out. Whether or not Jacka intended for this to be the case, I do not know but it annoyed me somewhat that Alex failed to do so as early as I did. Yes, it is a weak criticism but I do honestly think this. The only other one I have is that the ending seemed a little drawn out and maybe could have been condensed by a page or two.

All in all, this book is better than Chosen (which suffers somewhat from the second book slump) and feels darker and has more danger in it providing a real sense of threat towards the characters than any of the earlier ones. The change in structuring prevents a feeling of déjà vu as well the limited removal of Alex skills, forcing him to use his brain and not his brawn to defeat his adversaries.

Book Review: Cursed by Benedict Jacka

Cursed by Benedict Jacka is the second book in the adventures of chance mage, Alex Verus.

This time he is trying to train Luna as his apprentice, run his store in Camden and dealing with some weird and wonderful (and sometimes nuisance!) customers who can’t seem to take a hint, avoid the mages he managed to upset in his last adventure and dodge assassins who would like to kill him. Nothing different there until that is, he gets asked to consult on an investigation into the death of a magical creature which turns out to have been killed by anything but normal methods. To add to his problems, someone takes an item called the Monkey’s Paw (a twisted genie in the lamp wish granting item) and his front window is smashed when a creature created by a mage comes flying in to kill a woman who has just rushed in asking for help!

This might seem like a lot of different story lines to have in one book but Jacka manages to deal with them all (and a couple more) very well and they all lead into one another and combine to become a very interesting and readable book. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Luna and Alex as he tries to train her and the fact that, for a short while, Alex seems to be in a sort of love triangle. Jacka also expands his world very slightly to include magical creatures and new terms for organisations (if you will) of dark and light mages and how the mages all get along, such as agreements and a ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ deals economy.

Problem I had with this book though is that it felt like Jacka was recycling the format he had in the first book. The meeting and setting up of agreements and alliances between mages, the use of Elsewhere in the same place, the battle in one place then another, the arrival at the Big Bad‘s home for part of the book…

Of course, if it isn’t broke, don’t break it but surely you would mix it up some? Why have Alex go through the same set of events, just to a different storyline? The battles in this book doesn’t seem as good as in the first and there seems to be a large focus on Alex using guns instead of his magic and wit and brain to fight. This book definitely seems to fall into the second book slump territory which is a shame as he has a brilliant concept and a different spin on the urban fantasy concept. I hope this is not a sign of things to come for the third book (which I have lined up ready to read) but there does seem to be an indication that things will improve and the format change, especially as the master/apprentice relationship looks set to make things new and interesting. Other concepts are ready to be introduced and maybe this will improve the next book.

 

Book Review: Fated by Benedict Jacka

Fated is the first book in a series following chance mage, Alex Verus, as he runs a store in Camden Town, London, whilst trying to run from his past and avoid dealing with the magical Council as much as possible. Unfortunately, his skills leave him in high demand and leads to him being offered jobs that appear simple on the surface but is not what it seems.

Recommended to me off the back of having just order Broken Homes, the fourth Ben Aaronovitch book, this book is very much in the same vein of Aaronovitch’s series, set in London and written from the first person point of view.  The comedy is in a similar vein to to the Peter Grant novels so it is likely they both have similar or the same audiences.

What’s different though are the styles of magic used in each series. Aaronovitch’s wizards are able to use all types of magic and skills (providing they have learned how to use it!) but Jacka‘s mages are able to use only one type of magic. The main character Alex Verus is a chance mage or seer if you will, able to use divination magic to see the future and it often saves his life.  This does not mean the fight scenes are no less thrilling than Aaronovitch’s. I actually believe his scenes are better due to the fact that Verus is not a battle mage so often has to use his cunning rather than his magic to save him when he is in a tight spot. This is not to say that Verus is unable to use magic in battles but rather that Jacka is more inventive due to the limitation he places on Verus so has to give him other means to fight, such as the use of magical items and of elemental spirits.

The concept of Elsewhere is also intriguing, allowing Jacka’s characters to talk even when apart but I do question as to whether Elsewhere could possibly be used to better effect for other purposes.

Jacka’s Fated has a darker edge to it from the outset, unlike Aaronovitch’s, and this actually provides a more intriguing and adult feel to it. This could be down to the fact that Verus is a mercenary of sorts who tries to keep a low profile and is very willing to kill or seriously injure as he has very little of the principles and rules and regulations that curb Grant and Nightingale. The organisation of Jacka’s magical word would indicate that there would be more regulation and limitations to what Verus can do but in actual fact, because all the mages in Jacka’s series (especially the dark mages) seem to be driven by greed and a lust for power,  it makes the world more dangerous so leaves more room for different adventures and scrapes for Verus to get involved with.

In general, this novel is a great novel and is highly recommended if you are a Ben Aaronovitch fan or even a Derek Landy (Skulduggery Pleasant) fan as all share very similar themes, comedy and, arguably, character types so would appeal.