Witch Creek: A Wildlands Novel (book 2 but book 4 of the ‘Dark Alchemy’ series) by Laura Bickle (book review).

There is something very annoying about cliff-hangers. It is fine at the end of a chapter when to find what happens next is only the turn of a page away or in a TV episode when the next is scheduled for the next week, but having to wait a year to find out what happens is unfair. There is the argument that it keeps the reader wanting more, but the whole of the book should have done that if the characters are engaging enough or if their lives are such that ‘happy ever after’ is not guaranteed.

David Eddings was one the worst exponent of the cliff-hanger finishing novels almost mid-sentence and there are some schools of thought that consider a trilogy as one novel chopped into three. If the parts are published at very short intervals there would be little time to forget what is going on.

Laura Bickle finished her previous novel, ‘Nine Of Stars’, on a cliff-hanger. Set at the edge of Yellowstone, Petra Dee is a geologist and the daughter of an alchemist. At the end of the novel, her new husband, Gabe Manget, had gone missing. He was last seen disappearing onto the tunnels beneath the Rutherford Ranch, pursued by Owen Rutherford, the local sheriff and inheritor of the ranch. Petra has been undergoing treatment for leukaemia and it doesn’t appear to be working. After three months, she gives up on the chemotherapy, discharges herself and goes to look for Gabe.

The novel, ‘Witch Creek’, itself has three strands. There is Petra’s determination to find Gabe before time runs out for her. Throughout, she is haunted by her mortality and imminent death. One of the places she wants to look is beneath the Rutherford Ranch. Before previous owner Sal Rutherford died, he killed the tree of life. It only gave a semblance of life as tangled within its roots were the Hanged Men, who came to life during the day but spent their nights within the roots. Gabe had been the first Hanged Man but, when the tree was killed, he became a living mortal again.

Petra is partially looking in the right place as Owen is holding Gabe prisoner. Owen wants information about the magical practices of Lascaris, the man who founded the nearby town of Temperance. He was the original owner of the ranch and whose knowledge Owen thinks can rid him of the ghost that has haunted him for years. Penned in the river beneath the ranch is Muirenn, a mermaid created by Lascaris as part of his experiments. She bargains with Owen that she will give him what he wants if he sets her free from her prison and allows her to talk privately to Gabe. She is totally untrustworthy.

The third strand involves Lev, the owner of a bar in Temperance. Normally, he keeps out of the affairs of others. When a young man turns up claiming to be his son, he is at first disbelieving then astonished but, just as he is beginning to accept the idea of fatherhood, Muirenn kills the boy. Lev doesn’t want the new relationship to end so quickly that he decides to try and save him. One of the ingredients he needs is alchemical gold, such as the pendant Petra has hidden in her trailer home. His theft of it bring the strands of the novel together.

While this is a delightfully written book woven together with subtle magic, it ends where it begins, on a cliff-hanger!

Pauline Morgan

March 2018

(pub: Harper/Voyager. 363 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-06-256741-4)

check out website: www.harpervoyagerbooks.com

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