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Book Review: In Search of a Witch's Soul


Title: In Search of a Witch's Soul

Publisher: Ink & Magick

Author: D. Lieber

Pages: 208pp

Price: $12.95/$3.99

Release Date: 5 March 2019

New York City. The Roaring Twenties. Prohibition is in full force: magic is illegal. Witches have been forced underground -- sometimes literally -- forbidden from publicly performing magic. Anna Caill is a private detective, still mourning the death of her fiancé shortly after his return from the Great War; she is also a magic addict, constantly making use of the Living Memory spell to keep herself upright and functional. She often solves problems for the magical community that the police willfully ignore. And so, when a young high priest goes missing, his friend hires Anna to track him down. Unfortunately, there is more to the case than Anna initially suspects, and more is at the stake than the life of just one high priest ....

I'm always looking for new urban fantasy and occult detective stories to read; those set during the height of the noir and pulp era hold a special appeal. So, when I came across In Search of a Witch's Soul on netgalley, I couldn't pass it up.

Overall, In Search of a Witch's Soul is a highly imaginative, entertaining read. Anna, like so many pulp detectives, is driven, determined, and insightful; she is also emotionally scarred, unable to form new romantic attachments and incapable of moving on after her fiancé's death. 

The world that Anna inhabits is a fascinating magical alternative to the real world. Where the real Prohibition led to speak easies and bootlegging, the Prohibition of Anna's world (driven by religious fanatics convinced that magic will damn innocent souls) results in underground magical parlors and practitioners. Tunnels lead from legitimate businesses to witches willing to break the law; but the tunnels are a labyrinth and fae light guides are needed to traverse them safely. Some places can only be accessed by making an offering to one of the ancient Gods, and humans can't get into the Shadow Market at all.

While the United States of this world is definitely a majority Christian nation, the old Gods are still worshipped -- at least by witches. When Anna needs to gain entrance to Erostes, a magical gay bar, she first has to walk down a long, dark hallway; recesses in the wall holds statues to numerous ancient Deities, along with offerings of incense, fruit, flowers, and honey. But Anna has no idea who any of these Deities are, and finally selects the idol of Eros himself at random; only among the witches has knowledge of the Gods been preserved.

While I enjoyed In Search of a Witch's Soul, I do have one serious complaint: the ending is very abrupt. The story did not conclude as I expected, and when it did end, it was suddenly just done. Bam. Case solved, bad guy dead. And then the story leaps immediately into an epilogue set a year later. It was very disconcerting. A slightly longer denouement would have been better, helping to ease the reader through the surprise ending.

Ultimately, In Search of a Witch's Soul is a good addition to the growing urban fantasy/occult detective library, particularly for Pagan readers. Recommended to fans of Jim Butcher, Rebecca Chastain, P. Djèli Clark, Devon Monk, and Dan Willis. 

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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