Review by Mike Cluff
Hillbillies, magic, intrigue, royal conflicts, and more. Witchy Eye by Dave Butler takes us to an alternate North America in the early 1800’s full of conflict, magic, and magical conflict. The American Revolution never happened, the English aren’t nearly as powerful, and the longtime inhabitants don’t take kindly to pushy belief systems.
The story centers around Sarah Calhoun, a young woman of fifteen years with a bad eye. Raised as an Apalachee, Sarah’s rough, she’s ornery, but smart as hell. Events in the northern kingdom of Pennsland escalated by would-be Emporer Thomas Penn.
Sarah’s origin isn’t what she or most people thought it is, but learns early from a strange monk, Thalanes, about her lineage and the heavy responsibilities attached.
One of the most refreshing things about this book is that Butler doesn’t pander to thinly hidden plot reveals that span the whole story. Nope. Butler gets the gobbeldy-gook out of the way to make room for the good stuff, namely the actual adventure for Sarah and her companions.
Now there is a good reason to make twists and such take a back seat in Witchy Eye. The world is complex, deep, and rich with history and mythology. Conveying that information in a way that isn’t info-dumping or leaves the reader completely lost is hard, but Butler pulls it off fairly well. Still, it is a task to make your brain dump all preconceived notions of history all of the way from Thomas Cromwell to George Washington. If you’re a fan of alternate histories, the task is what you like; for everyone else, it’s still worth it.
The book is in third person limited (from multiple rotating points of view) and the first scene is from the perspective of Obadiah Dogsbody—an uncouth lackey planning on kidnapping Sarah. Butler’s choice to start with a villain does delay the reader from acquainting themselves with Sarah, but also allows the reader to see how anyone off of the street sees Sarah (which does make for some great character conflict).
Readers not used to phonetically spelled dialogue might have issues with some of the accents. Read them out loud and you will not only catch on, but have fun. The diversity of accents adds to the diverse cultures of the world.
Do not think this another story about an angsty teen that saves the world. Things are not that easy for Sarah and although she is strong, she knows her weaknesses, accepts them, and isn’t caught up in shallow dilemmas like “does he think I am pretty?”
Read the book. You will love the characters, hate a good amount as well. My favorite was Sir William Lee, but you’ll have to read to find out why.