Sunday, March 9, 2008

Witch Ember by John Lawson

witch-ember.jpgIt's hard to describe exactly how much I enjoyed Witch Ember by John Lawson. I don't even know if "enjoy" is the right word to use, but it was an amazing book. I've been struggling with how to write this review and how to sort out my feelings and do the book justice. I certainly wouldn't call this a cheerful book (it's full of despair), but it's a book of fighting for what's right and never giving up despite seemingly never ending tumultuous struggles. It's a book about standing up for what you believe in, fighting for those less fortunate, overcoming injustice, and it's all set in one of the most intricate dark fantasy worlds that I've read. Witch Ember is the story of Esmeree, a girl who is born with a large ember in her chest and is destined for great things, but also destined to be proclaimed a witch and a heretic in achieving those great things. An ember is a stone...a magical stone that is said to be a fragment of the gods. Some are born with them, though most are small. Esmeree's is large and with it comes great power. She doesn't achieve this power immediately though and doesn't realize what she has when she is young. In her town there is great poverty except for a choice few and most of the children are parentless. They are left to the streets to fend for themselves and make their living as thiefs and prostitutes. I have to admit that I had a serious problem with this and almost put the book aside at first, but I'm glad I didn't. There are no graphic sex scenes with children, but the language is explicit and a lot is inferred. As I continued reading though, I saw where he was going with it. Esmeree remembers her childhood and wants something better for herself and her friends. She wants something better for the world. That disgust we feel as a reader is surely multiplied a thousand-fold by Esmeree. She takes what she knows and becomes a Sellaria, a woman who is studied in the fine arts of love-making and courting. With this title, she gains a little more power but in doing so is secretly thrown into a scheme to betray other "witches" with her own powers. She slowly begins to realize the extent of her powers and sees that she must fight for her cause and fight for what is right, while all along trying to balance her belief in God, her own powers, and the label of heretic that comes with those powers as the Medianists seek her out for her acts of heresy so that they can conduct an inquisition and hopefully bring her to her demise. There's so much more to this book than just that, but this is the very basic plot. Lawson has created some of the most amazing and inventive dark fantasy creatures that I've read including the Fee, a species of creatures made of twigs, branches, wicker, and leaves; the Rrakks, a truly terrifying group of creatures with no eyes that collect children as a source of power; and my favorite was the Asp who is a man covered in blue tattoos wearing different masks to show his emotions with a wonderful personality. His writing is absolutely superb and I'm curious to know if he's written more than just these two books. He seems like an extremely well seasoned writer and I'm surprised he's not with a bigger publishing company. Throughout the book there are some poems, songs, and myths that seem like they could be taken from ancient folklore. They're so well written. I never lost interest in this book, he held me in suspense or kept me so connected to the characters that I continued to feel connected to their journey. Here's a favorite passage taken from when Esmeree tells the Asp that she is planning for the future, thinking of what is to come...
..."A soul questing for perfection, Esmeree, is a soul in pain. You must follow the whims of your spirit. Live in the moment, and follow your heart. Live not in fear but in love." "Love?" "Love is a mirror of the divine, Esmeree. Fear not the future, for it will come whether you prepare for it or not."
Great passage, huh? How true! This is certainly an adult book which is something that some may want to keep in mind before reading this one. There's quite a bit of disturbing scenes in here, a good many of them involving children, and there are many sexual scenes though not many actual sex scenes if that makes any sense at all. But it really didn't bother me aside from the beginning like I mentioned earlier, and as I got further into the book and saw his reasoning in including that it made the book that much more powerful. So if you tend to read the same types of books as me, I don't think this is something that you can't handle. Overall this was an absolutely amazing book and I'm bumping it up to favorite read of 2008 so far. I have his second book also which I'll be reviewing a little later. Highly, highly recommended. Edit to add: You can find out more about Mr. Lawson's books, read a chapter from the book, and buy autographed copies through his website at .

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